20 March 2019
Anti-Brexit demonstrators wave flags and placards during a protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters
Anti-Brexit demonstrators wave flags and placards during a protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters

May suffers setbacks as Brexit debate starts in parliament

British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered embarrassing defeats on Tuesday at the start of five days of debate over her plans to leave the European Union, Reuters reports.

On the first day of debate, before the main vote on Dec. 11, her government was found in contempt of parliament.

Also, a group of her own Conservative Party lawmakers won a challenge to hand more power to the House of Commons if May’s deal is voted down, the report said.

The debates and final vote on Dec. 11 will determine how, and possibly even if, Britain leaves the EU as planned on March 29.

May’s plans are vulnerable to more change at the end of the debate, and advice from a senior EU legal aide that Britain had the right to withdraw its Brexit notice opened yet another front in her battle to win the approval of parliament.

“We need to deliver a Brexit that respects the decision of the British people,” May told parliament.

“This argument has gone on long enough. It is corrosive to our politics and life depends on compromise.”

The opposition Labour Party said May needs to get a better deal or step aside and let them govern.

“We still don’t know what our long term relationship with Europe would look like and that’s why so many MPs (Members of Parliament) across parliament are not willing to vote for this blindfold Brexit and take a leap in the dark about Britain’s future,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told parliament.

Anxious to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit, a group of mainly pro-EU lawmakers from May’s Conservative Party won a vote to make sure parliament gets more power to dictate any next steps the government takes if her exit plan fails.

For them, there may be another way out. The formal advice from a European Court of Justice advocate general – not binding but usually heeded by the court – suggested to some lawmakers that revoking the “Article 50” divorce notice was an option.

“It’s a false choice to say it’s the PM’s deal or chaos,” said Conservative lawmaker Sam Gyimah, who quit as a minister on Friday over May’s deal. “We should look at all the options and not be boxed in by our own red lines.”

But May’s spokesman told reporters: “It does nothing in any event to change the clear position of the government that Article 50 is not going to be revoked.”

If, against the odds, May wins the Dec. 11 vote, Britain will leave the EU on March 29 on the terms she negotiated with Brussels.

If she loses, May could call for a second vote on the deal.

But defeat would increase the chances of a “no-deal” exit, which could mean chaos for Britain’s economy and businesses, and put May under fierce pressure to resign, Reuters noted.

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