U.K. Parliament Vote to Reveal Extent of Anger Over May’s Brexit Plan

LONDON (Reuters) —
An anti-Brexit demonstrator waves EU, Union and Welsh flags opposite the Houses of Parliament in London. (Reuters/Hannah McKay)

British Prime Minister Theresa May will face the anger of Brexit supporters in her party on Monday when they try to force her to change course on her strategy for leaving the European Union.

May is battling for her political survival after announcing a Brexit negotiating strategy that enraged euroskeptics in her Conservative Party, who see it as a plan to keep Britain too closely tied to Brussels.

The size of the threat to her position should become clear on Monday when euroskeptic lawmakers put forward a series of proposals to toughen up the government’s customs legislation during a parliamentary debate.

May is not expected to be defeated on the amendments, and could even order her government to back some of the least controversial ones to neutralize the impact of the rebellion without watering down her exit plan.

But if she chooses to fight and then sees a large number of her own party rebel, it would undermine her leadership and cast fresh doubt on whether she can deliver the Brexit plan agreed by her Cabinet this month at her Chequers country residence.

The Chequers agreement, which is only a starting point for negotiations with the EU, has already led to the resignations of high-profile Cabinet members David Davis and Boris Johnson, and the pro-Brexit faction say it has to change.

“I suspect the Chequers deal is, in fact, dead,” Conservative lawmaker Bernard Jenkin told the BBC.

It has also been rejected by some in the pro-EU faction in her party, with former minister Justine Greening on Monday calling for a second referendum on Brexit to end the stalemate in Parliament over the best future relationship with the bloc.

On Sunday, May attempted to face down would-be eurosceptic rebels by warning that if they sink her premiership they risk squandering the victory of an EU exit that they have dreamed about for decades.

Business Minister Greg Clark urged party members to get behind the prime minister’s plan: “”When it comes to Parliament I hope and expect that it will be persuasive that what is on offer will be good for the U..K, it would be good for every part of the U.K.”

A party meeting last week looked to have snuffed out talk of a confidence motion challenging May’s leadership, which would require 48 Conservative members of Parliament to initiate, and 159 to win.

But, fueled by criticism from President Donald Trump and anger at grassroots level in the party, the sentiment against May has gained fresh momentum.

On Monday much attention will fall on Davis, who led the Brexit negotiation until he quit in protest at May’s plan, and Johnson, the former foreign minister who is seen as a challenger for her job.

Both could speak in the debate, and they may have an important influence over how many colleagues are willing to speak out.

The amendments to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill have been proposed by arch-euroskeptic Jacob Rees-Mogg. He said he did not expect the bill, or another key bill on trade due to be debated on Tuesday, to be blocked outright by the 650-member Parliament.

“I’m sure Theresa May does not want to split the Conservative Party and therefore she will find that the inevitable consequence of the parliamentary arithmetic is that she will need to change it (the Brexit policy) to keep the party united,” Rees-Mogg said.

“We’ll have an idea of the numbers, I suppose, at 10 o’clock on Monday evening.”

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