23 March 2019
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May replies to questions after speaking at the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference in London on Monday. Photo: Reuters
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May replies to questions after speaking at the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference in London on Monday. Photo: Reuters

May sticks to Brexit deal as opponents seek formal challenge

British Prime Minister Theresa May vowed on Monday to stick to her draft European Union divorce deal as dissenting lawmakers in her own party tried to trigger a leadership challenge, Reuters reports.

“We have in view a deal that will work for the UK and, let no one be in any doubt, I am determined to deliver it,” May was quoted as saying in a speech to the Confederation of British Industry. “We are not talking about political theory but the reality of people’s lives and livelihoods.

“While the world is changing fast, our geography is not: Europe will always be our most proximate goods market, and ensuring we have free-flowing borders is crucial,” May said.

The EU is due to hold a summit to discuss the draft deal on Nov. 25. Some eurosceptic ministers in May’s cabinet are reported to want to rewrite parts of it, though EU governments have largely ruled this out.

Since striking a deal with the EU on Tuesday, May has faced the most perilous crisis of her premiership with several cabinet ministers resigning, including her Brexit minister.

May has pledged to fight on, warning that toppling her risks delaying Britain’s exit from the EU, or leaving without a deal, a step that could thrust the world’s fifth largest economy into the unknown.

Even if she stays in place, the level of opposition from eurosceptics in her own Conservative ranks has made clear how hard it will be to get the deal through parliament, Reuters noted.

May said she wanted any Brexit transition, during which Britain will remain a member in all but name and voting rights, to have ended by the time of the next national election, due in 2022.

The EU has signaled it could accept Britain extending the transition by up to two years from December 2020.

The EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, called the draft “fair and balanced” and offered the orderly exit in March that would form a basis for a future trade deal.

Barnier met ministers from the 27 EU governments in Brussels as they try to complete a separate, non-binding “declaration” on plans for a trade and security relationship with Britain that May would agree at a summit in Brussels on Sunday.

Diplomats said many pushed national interests to be included – France on fishing rights, for example, or Spain’s claim to Gibraltar. 

More than two years after the United Kingdom voted by 52-48 percent to leave the EU, it is still unclear how, on what terms or even if it will leave as planned on March 29, 2019.

Many business chiefs and investors fear politics could torpedo an agreement, thrusting the economy into a no-deal void that they say would weaken the West, spook financial markets and clog the arteries of trade.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told business leaders that his party will not countenance a no-deal Brexit but would also vote against May’s Brexit blueprint.

“After the events of the past week, many people and many businesses will be confused and very, very anxious,” Corbyn said in a speech.

“The prime minister has negotiated a botched, worst-of-all-worlds deal which is bad for Britain, leaving the country in an indefinite halfway house without a real say.”

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