UK Prime Minister Theresa May will attempt to drum up parliamentary support for her beleaguered Brexit bill later Tuesday, as lawmakers prepare to vote on whether she broke the rules over publishing the full legal advice on her plan.
May is expected to tell lawmakers that her deal — agreed last month with European leaders but opposed by large swaths of opposition parties and even her own Conservatives — “delivers for our country.”
But her speech has been delayed because lawmakers are holding a debate about whether she or her ministers should be held in contempt of parliament for ignoring a vote to publish the legal advice on her deal in full.
In theory, she or her ministers could be expelled from parliament if the vote goes against her. In practice, a lesser sanction is likely to be applied.
In her speech, May will say that her deal delivers on the Brexit referendum. “An end to free movement once and for all. An end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK. An end to those vast sums we send to Brussels every year. And a fair settlement of our financial obligations, less than half what some predicted,” according to prepared remarks shared ahead of her speech.
“A new Free Trade Area with no tariffs, fees, quantitative restrictions or rules of origin checks — an unprecedented economic relationship that no other major economy has. And at the same time, the freedom to have an independent trade policy and to strike new trade deals all around the world.”
While May mentions the “integrity of our United Kingdom,” and the importance of border control, her provided remarks notably do not directly touch on the issue of Northern Ireland, which has emerged as the main hurdle for any Brexit deal.
One of the biggest concerns about Brexit is that it could lead to the return of a hard border between EU member the Republic of Ireland, and Brexiting Northern Ireland — which many fear could lead to a return to violence in the region.
In order to avoid this, May agreed a backstop arrangement with European leaders, whereby failure to reach an alternate deal defaults to a “single customs territory between the (European) Union and the United Kingdom,” which could potentially continue indefinitely until all parties are satisfied with an alternative solution.
Such a situation would essentially leave the UK both in and out of the EU, in line with all EU regulations and rules but unable to influence them. It would also block the most ambitious post-Brexit policies of hardliners in May’s Party, many of whom see such a deal as anathema to the 2016 vote on leaving the EU.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a right-wing Northern Irish party which currently props up May’s minority government in Westminster, has already indicated the backstop is unacceptable to it, and has also threatened to vote down any deal which would see Northern Ireland treated differently to the rest of the UK.
On Monday, DUP lawmakers joined with opposition parties in submitting an emergency motion accusing the government of holding Parliament in contempt after it ignored a vote obliging it to publish legal advice it sought on the Brexit deal.
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox briefed Parliament on the legal advice but the government did not publish the advice in full, arguing that Cox’s statements were sufficient to satisfy lawmakers’ demands.
The DUP had been hoping to learn more about what advice the government sought about the Northern Ireland backstop. Lawmakers will debate the contempt motion on Tuesday ahead of May’s remarks.
Election, or second referendum?
Should May lose the Brexit vote next week, Labour has said it will almost certainly seek a vote of no confidence in her government, a move that could bring her premiership down and force a general election.
Failing that, the left-wing party has pledged to campaign for a second referendum or so-called “People’s Vote” on Brexit, something May appears to warn against in her remarks due to be made on Tuesday.
“Ultimately, membership of any Union that involves the pooling of sovereignty can only be sustained with the consent of the people,” May will say.
“In the referendum of 2016, the biggest democratic exercise in our history, the British public withdrew that consent.”
May will tell lawmakers that the British people “want us to get on with a deal that honors the referendum and allows us to come together again as a country, whichever way we voted.”
This echoes comments made by her environment secretary, and key Brexit campaigner, Michael Gove, on Sunday, in which he claimed a second Brexit vote would see voters choose to leave in even greater numbers, a view not necessarily supported by the latest polling.