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Theresa May Plans New Commons Brexit Vote in High-Stakes Move

Theresa May Plans New Commons Brexit Vote in High-Stakes Move

Theresa May is considering a risky new push next week to unlock the Brexit deadlock with a potentially decisive House of Commons vote on flagship exit legislation, the Financial Times reports.

In a desperate attempt to prove to May’s restive party that she still has a plan to deliver Brexit, Downing Street said it was ready to bring forward the bill to implement the UK prime minister’s unloved withdrawal treaty. “It’s a piece of legislation that is required,” May’s spokesman said. “We have been working on the Withdrawal Agreement bill for a significant amount of time.”

May is planning to tell Conservative MPs that if the bill can be swiftly approved, there would be no need to hold European Parliament elections on May 23 — a contest likely to result in a humiliation for the Conservatives.

The passage of the legislation would pave the way for both the UK and the EU to ratify the draft exit treaty and for Britain to leave the bloc before the new European Parliament takes its seats on July 1.

But if the legislation is rejected, the government could not reintroduce it again in this session of parliament. “It would be quite a big thing,” admitted one ally of May.

At present there is little to suggest that May will be able to win a majority for the Brexit legislation, given that MPs last month rejected by 58 votes the withdrawal treaty that would be at its heart — their third rebuff for May’s deal.

Even publishing the bill, which has been kept under wraps for months, will be a risky move for May because it will remind Eurosceptic Tory MPs of some of the most contentious elements of the deal struck with Brussels.

According to the Financial Times, the treaty that the bill is based on includes provisions such as the UK’s £39bn exit payment to the EU, protection of citizens’ rights, a transition period and the so-called backstop to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, which Eurosceptic Conservatives say could “trap” the UK into a customs union with Brussels.

The new legislation would also allow the UK to update its statute book to reflect new EU laws that come into force during the transition period and preserve the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

The prime minister is seeking to wrap up Brexit negotiations with the Labour opposition party this week, so that the bill can be brought to parliament next week.

May’s allies admitted that she would not bring the bill forward if it was “certain to be defeated”. That suggests Downing Street would need to have some signal from Labour that it would support the legislation.

But even as the cross-party talks resumed on Tuesday, May suggested to her cabinet that Jeremy Corbyn’s party was deliberately dragging its feet on the bid to find common ground on Brexit.

May’s spokesman said the prime minister told colleagues that “the discussions with Labour have been serious but difficult in some areas, such as in relation to the timetable for negotiations”.

If the talks broke down, May would try to pin the blame on Labour for forcing the country into European elections. However, senior Tories said they feared Corbyn would drag out the negotiations so that it was inevitable that the votes took place. Tories fear a wipeout at the hands of Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party in such a scenario.

On Tuesday, Mr Corbyn told the BBC that the government “really does need to move on” and change May’s deal for there to be any hope of a breakthrough in the talks. “We cannot go on hearing this tired old mantra that the Brexit agreement has to be adhered to,” he said, signalling that Labour would not vote for the withdrawal treaty unless there was an understanding with the government on future ties with the EU.

Approval for the legislation on the exit treaty would kick off a tortuous passage through parliament during which the bill could be amended. Attempts to add a customs union — which is at the heart of Corbyn’s demands — or a second referendum would be expected.

Even if the bill did eventually become law, Downing Street said there would still have to be a separate “meaningful vote” on May’s deal under the terms of 2018 Brexit legislation. However, that would be expected to be a formality if MPs have already approved the bill to put the draft treaty into effect.

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