Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, departs after speaking following a special meeting of the European Council on the Brexit withdrawal agreement in Brussels, Belgium (Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg)  

May Sees Only Division If Lawmakers Reject Brexit Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May predicted national divisions over Brexit will widen if lawmakers fail to back her plans in a key parliamentary vote next month.

Speaking to reporters on the plane as she flew to the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, May made a dogged defense of the deal she sealed on Sunday with the European Union, repeatedly refusing to countenance alternatives should her package be rejected by lawmakers on Dec. 11.

May Sees Only Division If Lawmakers Reject Brexit Deal

She ruled out another referendum, said Britain won’t be in a Customs Union with the EU and dismissed the so-called Norway option. She also signaled she wouldn’t resign.

Britons, she said, just want politicians “to get on with it.” In the face of mounting parliamentary opposition to her Brexit package, she urged every member of Parliament to think about the consequences for their constituents and voters’ jobs of rejecting the deal.

“If the vote is not supported then we will see more division and more uncertainty for people,” May said. “As a country we can really prosper outside the European Union. I believe there will be opportunities for us outside the EU that there aren’t as members of the EU, but a divided country is not a country that prospers."

Battle Ahead

The problem for May is that all opposition parties have indicated they’ll vote down the deal, as have her allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party and almost 100 members of her own Conservatives. If everyone votes as they’ve indicated, she’ll lose by a wide margin.

The deal they’re voting on is a legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement spanning almost 600 pages, and a 26-page political declaration of intent on what the future U.K.-EU relationship will look like.

“I believe it genuinely is a good deal for the United Kingdom and what all the analysis shows is that it is the best deal that honors the vote of the referendum,” May said. “This is the best deal for jobs and the economy that honors the referendum and opens up the opportunities that we will have post-Brexit.”

At one point, she referred to the package as “a good trade deal with the European Union.” One of the main complaints of opponents is precisely that it isn’t a trade deal, but rather a nonbinding sketch of what the future agreement might look like, with no guarantees the U.K. will get the friction-less trade it’s seeking.

The default option if May is defeated is for Britain to tumble out of the bloc without a deal in March -- a situation that the Bank of England on Wednesday warned could lead to the biggest crash since at least World War II. May said that was a “worst-case scenario,” and that the government’s ongoing no-deal preparations would mitigate that.

May Sees Only Division If Lawmakers Reject Brexit Deal

Asked if she would quit in the event of losing the vote, May said it’s a question she’s always asked by the press on foreign trips and “my answers aren’t going to change.” In the past she’s said she’s not a quitter and she’s in it for the long term. The premier also said the next election won’t be for a few years.

Reporters on the plane had one last try at finding out what May might do on Dec. 12 if her deal is rejected by Parliament. It was pointed out to her that the long flight to Argentina gave her plenty of time to work on a Plan B. “Nice try,” she replied. For now, the only deal she’s willing to countenance is the one she’s got.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.