May faces parliamentary standoff with her backbenchers over Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech at the Royal Free Hospital, in north London, Britain, 18 June 2018. EPA-EFE/WILL OLIVER

May faces parliamentary standoff with her backbenchers over Brexit


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The UK Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a parliamentary standoff over the future of Brexit on Wednesday.

May is unwilling to accept a compromise with her pro-EU backbenchers, who want the parliament to determine what happens if her government fails to secure an acceptable agreement with the EU.

Her backbenchers contend that it is the parliament that should decide what happens if a) MPs vote down the agreement that Mrs May does conclude or b) no deal has is reached at all with Brussels by January 21, 2019.

Her spokesman made clear on Tuesday that the government is only willing to concede an advisory and non-binding vote in parliament in both cases. The government will not “allow parliament to direct the government on its approach to exiting the EU, binding the prime minister’s hands and making it harder to secure a good deal for the UK,” the spokesman said. He went on to express that hope that all Conservative MPs would back the government.

Despite the government’s repeated defeats in the House of Lords , Mrs May wants the government rather than the parliament to decide what happens if negotiations fail.  However, as the vote in the House of Commons put the unity of the Conservative party and the UK government to the test.

Theresa May leads a minority government; theoretically, backbenchers could bring down the government, although it may be betting on support from a minority of opposition Labour MPs.

One of the leading backbenchers of the Conservative party, Dominic Grieve, has made clear that he will not stand behind a “no deal is better than a bad deal” position. He is calling for a vote in parliament that will shape the future of Brexit should the government fail to secure a deal with Brussels.

Grieve notes that Brexit is a “bad idea” but he is certain it will happen. Moreover, he told BBC Radio 4 that he still hopes the government will move forward with a reasonable compromise.

 “I don’t want to collapse the government at all,” he told Sky News on Tuesday, but “no deal” in his view will bring “an extraordinary crisis.” Mr Grieve has warned that backbenchers will vote down the government on this matter.

Backbenchers want to avoid “crushing out” of the EU. Notable Brexiteers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg believe that a standoff is inevitable as the ultimate objective they see in this vote is to  “obstruct” Brexit.

Theresa May’s government is moving for a so-called hard Brexit, that will not entail access to the Single Market or membership of the Customs Union. The parliament has a majority opposed to a hard Brexit, in the sense that the Labour Party has said it will prioritise access to the Single Market.

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