Theresa May pledges Brexit vote by March 12 in another play for time

By: |
February 24, 2019 8:12 PM

The British prime minister confirmed there will not be a so-called “meaningful vote” on the negotiated terms of the U.K.’s split from the European Union in the House of Commons this week.

Theresa May, Brexit, Brexit policy, britain, European Union, House of Commons, British prime minister, world newsBritish Prime Minister Theresa May. (Reuters)

Theresa May launched a last-ditch bid to stop Parliament taking Brexit policy out of her hands by promising politicians a binding vote on her divorce deal by March 12. The British prime minister confirmed there will not be a so-called “meaningful vote” on the negotiated terms of the U.K.’s split from the European Union in the House of Commons this week. But she has promised to give Parliament a general vote on Brexit on Wednesday, and lawmakers are threatening to use that opportunity to force her to delay the divorce.

May is battling an open revolt from within her own Cabinet as ministers are set to join forces with opposition members to try to prevent the U.K. falling out of the EU on March 29 without a deal. In an attempt to buy herself an extra two weeks to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement in Brussels, she promised that members of Parliament will have a decisive vote by March 12. Ministers said privately last week they weren’t minded to give her more time — they’ve already given her the benefit of the doubt twice.

“We have been having positive talks with the European Union,” May told reporters on her flight to Egypt for the EU-Arab League Summit on Sunday. “My team will be back in Brussels again this coming week — they will be returning to Brussels on Tuesday. As a result of that we won’t bring a ‘meaningful vote’ to Parliament this week but we will ensure that that happens by the 12th of March.”

May arrived in Egypt braced for what could be the most difficult week of her troubled premiership. In an attempt to persuade them to give ground, May will hold talks with EU leaders in Egypt on the sidelines of the summit at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

If she doesn’t get a deal in the next 48 hours, May is expected to face a move by members of her own Tory party and opposition politicians to take the next steps out of her hands. The Commons will vote on plans for what happens next on Feb. 27, including one proposal that’s expected to force May to ask the EU to extend the March 29 exit date if no deal is reached by the middle of March. The aim of that plan is to prevent the economic damage of a no-deal Brexit.

Three Cabinet ministers — Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark — wrote a joint article on Saturday warning they cannot allow the U.K. leave without a deal and suggesting they will vote to stop it on Wednesday. May says a no-deal Brexit remains on the table until a deal is agreed. Her allies argue that keeping the option open is a vital negotiating tactic for persuading the EU, and Parliament, to sign up to an agreement.

When asked repeatedly whether ministers face being fired for defying government policy, May declined to give a clear answer.

“What we see around the Cabinet table is strong views held on the issue of Europe,” May said, insisting that the doctrine of ministers abiding by “collective responsibility” has not “broken down.” Even so, her reluctance to say how ministers such as Rudd will be punished for speaking out — or even voting against the government — risks being seen as giving the green light to members of her team to rebel.

Some ministers want Conservative MPs to be free to vote how they want on Brexit, averting the need for them to resign from the government to back moves to stop a no-deal split. While May is unlikely to allow this, she said: “There will always come a point where we have to decide whether we accept the deal that’s been negotiated or not. Obviously every member of Parliament across the House will have to face that decision when that point comes.”

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