U.K.'s May Faces Fresh Brexit Battle Amid Row Over Legal Advice
(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May faces yet another grueling battle this week as members of Parliament sink their teeth into her Brexit deal ahead of a crucial vote.
On Monday, politicians on all sides will ratchet up the pressure on May to justify the terms she’s agreed to with the European Union by demanding she publish the government’s internal legal advice underpinning the accord.
Meanwhile, the opposition Labour Party further raised the stakes for next week’s key parliamentary vote on May’s deal, signaling it will propose a motion to bring down her government if, as is widely expected, the prime minister’s plan is rejected.
The first battle could come to a head when Attorney General Geoffrey Cox address Parliament on Monday. While lawmakers have voted for the advice to be published in full, Solicitor General Robert Buckland told the House of Commons on Friday that the government will provide just a “full and reasoned statement’’ on the legality of Brexit.
Complaints All Around
That stance is drawing criticism from all sides. Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer told Sky News on Sunday he’ll try to compel publication through contempt proceedings if the government declines to release it in full, while the Sunday Telegraph reported that May’s Democratic Unionist Party allies are set to join Labour and other opposition parties to force the issue. Two Conservative MPs, Simon Clarke and David Jones, also urged the government to publish the advice in full, as did former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in his Telegraph column on Monday.
The release could be explosive. The Sunday Times reported that Cox’s advice warns that the U.K. could be trapped “indefinitely” in a customs union with Brussels, citing a letter to cabinet ministers in November.
Labour’s Starmer also said on Sunday that it was “inevitable” his party would call a no-confidence vote if lawmakers reject May’s deal. If May were to lose that too -- a result that would likely require some of her own lawmakers or parliamentary allies to vote against her -- it would put the U.K. on course for another general election.
The Times reported Monday that the Northern Ireland’s DUP, which props up May’s fragile majority, is threatening to vote against her in such a motion.
The U.K.’s Fixed Term Parliaments Act stipulates that, after losing a confidence vote, parties would have two weeks to form another administration that can command a majority in the House of Commons. If nobody can, an election automatically is called.
Sell the Deal
The explicit threat of a such a vote could help the prime minister sell her deal to her own party. Evidence of that tactic emerged almost immediately on Sunday, with Tory Chairman Brandon Lewis saying that “the best way to prevent” that outcome is to “get this deal through Parliament on Dec. 11.”
U.K. lawmakers are set to begin debating May’s Brexit package this week, but the signs don’t look promising for the prime minister. All opposition parties say they’ll reject it, as do her allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party and about 100 members of her own Conservative Party.
Those Tory dissenters come from both sides on the Brexit debate, with Science Minister Sam Gyimah -- who quit on Friday in the 22nd ministerial resignation since the 2017 election -- the latest pro-European to voice his displeasure. The U.K. is scheduled to leave the EU in a little less than four months.
May has stuck rigidly to the line that she can win the parliamentary vote on Brexit, and she’s also embarked on a charm offensive to win public backing for the deal -- seen by some as a dry-run for a future election campaign.
The prime minister, who’ll speak to Parliament on Monday about her trip to the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires, refused to tell reporters traveling with her in Argentina whether she has a Plan B. In a statement on Monday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid called on MPs to back the plan, which he said ends free movement and gives the U.K. control of its borders.
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