Political paralysis in Westminster is more likely to lead to ‘no Brexit’ and the UK staying in the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May warned on Monday (14 January) as she launched a last-ditch attempt to save her Brexit deal.
“While no deal remains a serious risk…it is now my judgment that the more likely outcome is a paralysis in Parliament that risks there being no Brexit,” said May.
Failing to leave the European Union would cause “catastrophic harm” to public faith in politicians and democracy in the UK, she said.
Speaking in Stoke, a Midlands city which delivered a heavy ‘Leave’ vote in the June 2016 referendum, the prime minister warned that blocking Brexit “would risk a subversion of the democratic process.”
“We would be sending a message from Westminster to communities like Stoke that your voices do not count,” she added.
Rejecting her deal would lead to “grave uncertainty”, said May.
A day before the vote by MPs in the House of Commons on the draft Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, May’s office also released an exchange of letters with the presidents of the European Council and Commission.
In the letters, May demanded further clarifications on the controversial Northern Irish backstop which seeks to ensure that there can be no future return to a hard border, as well as confirmation of “the legal connection between the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration”.
Brexiteers say that the backstop, if implemented, would lead to Northern Ireland having a different trading relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK.
The letter from EU presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk states that “just like the United Kingdom, the European Union does not wish to see the backstop enter into force,” adding that this “would represent a suboptimal trading arrangement for both sides.”
However, they insisted that “we are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement.”
May’s Brexit deal is due to finally be voted on by MPs on Tuesday evening (15 January) and is widely expected to be defeated.
Despite releasing the correspondence in a bid to show that the EU is still prepared to offer concessions to the UK, May lost another minister on Monday, after government whip Gareth Johnson resigned, saying that her deal would leave the UK “permanently constrained by the EU”.
Earlier on Monday, International Trade secretary Liam Fox described May’s deal as the “least damaging” option available.
But if May’s Withdrawal Agreement is rejected on Tuesday, it is far from clear what would follow. A majority of MPs are expected to demand that a ‘no deal’ Brexit be taken off the table, although it is unclear how that could be imposed on the government.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour party, meanwhile, has indicated that his party is likely to table a no-confidence vote shortly after the vote.
So far the government has dismissed suggestions that it would seek to re-table the withdrawal agreement with some cosmetic changes.
May added that her position in the Brexit negotiations remained unchanged and that “while we could ultimately make a success of no deal, it would cause significant disruption in the short term and it would be far better to leave with a good deal.”