LONDON – Lawmakers in British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party on Tuesday proposed a last-minute compromise Brexit plan which seeks to draw a line under internal divisions that have so far prevented Parliament from approving an exit deal.
May is under acute pressure to find a way out of Britain’s worst political crisis since World War II after her proposed deal for leaving the European Union was overwhelmingly rejected by Parliament earlier this month.
The new plan aims to broker peace between Conservatives who voted “leave” and those who voted “remain” in the 2016 Brexit referendum and has been endorsed by senior figures from both sides. The small Northern Irish party that props up May’s minority government has also indicated its support.
It courts Brexiteers with a promise to ditch an unpopular Irish border policy in favour of an alternative, and appeals to remain-supporting Conservatives by pledging safeguards against the risk of disruption if no deal can be agreed on with the EU.
But, its chances of success depend on both an official endorsement from May and a change in policy from EU negotiators.
The EU has so far been unwilling to consider reopening the withdrawal agreement it reached with May, and which was subsequently rejected by Parliament in a Jan. 16 vote.
That would be required under the new plan in order to replace the Irish backstop, a policy designed to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland if no better agreement can be reached.
The new plan — dubbed the Malthouse Compromise after one of its backers Kit Malthouse — was announced on the eve of a debate in Parliament over May’s response to the rejection of her original deal.
May has not yet commented on the Malthouse plan. But she has already said she wants to go back to the EU to renegotiate the backstop, without setting out what changes she is seeking.
She is hoping that lawmakers signal their support for this, and add pressure to the EU to reopen talks by voting to approve a statement calling on her to replace it with “alternative arrangements.”
The Malthouse plan itself will not be directly discussed or voted upon during the debate, but its backers are hoping May will verbally endorse it as a way to unite the party.