LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May warned lawmakers Sunday that failing to deliver Brexit would be catastrophic for democracy, in a plea for support two days before Parliament is expected to reject her deal with Brussels.
With the clock ticking down to its March 29 exit from the European Union and Parliament deadlocked, Britain faces a hugely uncertain path that could lead to a disorderly exit or even remaining in the bloc.
May, who postponed a vote in Parliament on her deal in December after admitting she was set to lose it, said lawmakers must not let down the people who backed Brexit in a June 2016 referendum.
“Doing so would be a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy,” she wrote in the Sunday Express. “So my message to Parliament this weekend is simple: it is time to forget the games and do what is right for our country.”
May has so far refused to retreat from her unpopular deal, which envisages close trading ties with the EU but without any say on policy as Britain has now. The vexed Brexit issue represents Britain’s biggest shift in foreign and trade policy in more than 40 years.
May’s deal has come under fire from all sides — with opponents of the EU seeking a cleaner break and many pro-Europeans pressing for a second referendum. May is expected to suffer a big defeat when Parliament votes Tuesday.
Meanwhile, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gave his clearest indication yet that his party is ready to call a no-confidence ballot within days of May losing the parliamentary vote.
Speaking on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday, Corbyn said a confidence vote would be brought “at a time of our choosing, but it is going to be soon, don’t worry about that.”
Corbyn is seeking to topple the government by forcing a general election. Under British electoral law, May’s Conservatives would have two weeks following a lost confidence vote to form a new government. If they fail, an election would be called.
The Labour leader faces a major hurdle: His chances of winning a confidence vote are slim, as he’d have to gain the support of both Tory and Northern Irish lawmakers, who fear a Labour takeover of government. If a confidence vote failed, he’d be under pressure to back a second Brexit referendum, risking a backlash from the many Labour supporters who voted to leave the EU.
Corbyn said he’d prefer to see a negotiated deal than a second referendum. Labour says it wants a full, permanent customs union with the EU, something that would appall many pro-Brexit Tories, though senior ministers are now said to be urging May to ask Corbyn for help in the hope of agreeing on a joint plan.
A no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for industry and trade, Corbyn told the BBC. “We will do everything we can to prevent a no-deal exit.”
As May made a last-ditch appeal to members of Parliament, the Guardian reported the EU is expecting a request from London to extend the March 29 deadline for leaving the bloc. A probable first step would be a “technical” extension until July to allow the prime minister to revise and ratify the Brexit deal, the newspaper said, citing EU sources it didn’t identify.
A defeat would leave Britain on course to leave the EU with no new trading arrangements in place. According to Bank of England analysts, such a chaotic split could hammer the pound and house prices, and plunge Britain into a recession worse than the financial crisis a decade ago.
The Sunday Times reported that some lawmakers are planning to seize control of the legislative agenda from the government in an act that would allow Parliament to extend the Brexit deadline or even overturn the decision to leave the EU.
A senior government official on Sunday described the plan as extremely concerning, since if it succeeds lawmakers would gain control over not just Brexit legislation but all legislation.
In a warning to Conservative rebels ahead of the vote, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said Brexiteers seeking “ideological purity” are in danger of seeing Britain not leave the EU at all. But asked about a Brexit Plan B, Barclay hinted that May is not ready to ditch her plan if it’s defeated, saying he “strongly suspects” lawmakers will end up voting for “something along the lines” of the current deal.
The EU is waiting to see the outcome of Tuesday’s vote — and the margin of the expected defeat — before considering its response, officials said, with some predicting that May will have to delay Brexit.
A margin of defeat exceeding about 60 lawmakers would probably mean the agreement is close to death and negotiations are in uncharted waters, several EU officials said. A narrower defeat and the bloc may look at fresh ways of making the agreement more palatable to get it across the line in Parliament.
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