PM’s deal ‘may be only option’ to complete Brexit

Brexit is the most momentous constitutional change Britain has faced in over four decades, putting a weakened Prime Minister Theresa May’s position in office under threat. With parliament getting itself more and more entangled in a Brexit mess, in addition to protest march demanding a second referendum, the former head of the Vote Leave campaign, Matthew Elliott, has urged MPs to get behind prime minister’s withdrawal agreement, saying Brexit has “never been at greater risk”.
Former chief executive of the official Brexit campaign, Elliott, said the UK’s departure from the European Union “probably won’t happen” if MPs vote down the Prime Minister’s deal for a third time, should she decide to go for the vote yet again.
Of course, if she does, it will have to be presented with fairly substantial alterations as the Speaker of the house had already put a block on it in its present form. Elliott’s words were echoed by chancellor Philip Hammond during a separate TV interview. “It’s the final chance to do this deal without having to have a long extension of the Article 50 period,” he said. Adding: “A long extension would mean Britain would have no choice but to participate in elections for the EU parliament. I don’t think there is a single person in the House of Commons that wants to see the UK conduct EU elections, but we may have to do that.”
Elliott warned that another failure of May’s deal would force the UK to ask the EU for a lengthy extension, “in exchange for which it is likely to impose horrendous conditions — permanent membership of the customs union, a second referendum or even another Brexit bill on top of the £39bn we have already promised.”
He said the deal was “far from perfect” but that he would rather opt for the “risk of a customs union later” with May’s deal than the “very real risk of a permanent customs union now.”
Over last week divisions widened among Brexit-backing MPs after a number hinted they could change position and vote for the prime minister’s deal. Former Cabinet minister, Esther McVey tweeted; “We either vote for this bad deal or get no Brexit which would fly in the face of democracy.”
Eurosceptics who have twice rejected her deal have two main Brexit visions of their own. Both risk crossing the other of May’s impenetrable red lines. The first is a straightforward trade deal of the type that Canada enjoys. Some Brexiteers have rushed to point out that the EU has actually offered such a deal, if May would only take it.
But this generous EU offer only applies to Britain, not to the whole of the UK. Northern Ireland would have to remain in the customs union, resulting in a border with mainland Britain in the Irish sea, and splintering May’s fragile alliance with the DUP.
The other Brexiteer offer is leaving with no deal at all. But this also comes with constitutional risks — not only in Northern Ireland, but in Scotland too, which voted Remain by 62 per cent. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has spent nearly three years accusing prime minister of ignoring Scotland’s voice and that would lay the groundwork for a second independence referendum.
While Northern Ireland faces the political and economic consequences of a hard border with the Republic, Scottish businesses will also suffer and unemployment may rise, fuelling their view that the House of Commons has yet again acted against Scotland’s interests.
May’s sense of civic duty will not allow her to gamble on an independent Scotland and a referendum on Irish reunification. The withdrawal agreement, then, is the only scrap of overlap between these competing priorities.
That is why May has stuck with it through cabinet revolts, resignations, leadership challenges, and two humiliating defeats in parliament. It’s why she may well bring it back for a third vote, because she truly believes that it is the best deal on offer. When she does, — with a short extension now agreed to UK’s exit date — hard-line MP’s have a decision to make.
If they do not vote for the deal, they may end up eventually with no Brexit at all. It is time to be facing the moment of reality. As the Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat so thoughtfully put it last week, “take the damn deal”.
(The author is our foreign correspondent based in the UK. He can be reached at