British Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to fight for the terms of her draft divorce deal with the European Union, despite a string of ministerial resignations and a revolt within her party putting her job at risk.
In a press conference on Thursday, a defiant May insisted her proposed agreement on Britain’s departure from the bloc put the the “national interest” first and was the only way to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
The leader of Britain’s Conservative party said rejection of her Brexit deal would put the country on “a path of deep and grave uncertainty” and went on to reiterate that a second referendum would not take place.
In a June 2016 referendum, 52 percent of Britons chose to leave the EU, while 48 percent voted to remain.
May’s comments came as she faced mounting criticism from all sides about the draft deal, as well as the threat of a no-confidence vote from within her own party.
Earlier in the day, two cabinet ministers, including the head of Brexit negotiations, and two junior ministers quit the government in protest against the proposed agreement over Britain’s EU exit on March 29, 2019.
In his resignation letter, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who oversaw Brexit negotiations under May, said May’s plan threatened the integrity of the UK.
“I regret to say that, following the cabinet meeting yesterday on the Brexit deal, I must resign,” he said on Thursday.
“I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election. This is, at its heart, a matter of public trust.”
Esther McVey, the secretary for work and pensions, said the draft deal “does not honour the result of the referendum” in her own resignation letter.
The 585-page draft aims to ensure a smooth divorce from the EU after more than four decades of membership and outlines a transition period for both sides to adjust to the break.
Key provisions seek to avoid a hard border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, protect citizens’ rights and settle Britain’s last bill.
Speaking earlier on Thursday before a hostile parliament, May told legislators “the choice is clear”.
“We can choose to leave with no deal, we can risk no Brexit at all, or we can choose to unite and support the best deal that can be negotiated,” May told the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads a group of anti-EU Conservatives, submitted on a letter of no-confidence in the prime minister saying that “it would be in the interest of the party and the country if she were to stand aside”. At least 48 such letters from Conservative MPs are required to trigger a vote of no-confidence in the party leader, and a majority of the party’s 315 legislators would have to vote against May in order for her to be removed.
Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from London, said it was a “bruising session of parliament” for May, adding that there was little hope for her proposed Brexit deal.
“There is a sizeable contingent within parliament now that thinks reversing the whole process might be the only way out of this crisis,” Brennan said.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Jonathan Lis, deputy director of British Influence, a pro-EU group, was similarly sceptical, saying “Brexit’s car has met reality’s wall today”.
Amid the political turmoil, the pound plunged on currency markets, falling 1.7 percent to $1.27, its second-biggest drop after it fell 1.73 percent against the US dollar in September.
Preparing for no-deal
The results of the referendum two years ago triggered international shock and questions as to how Brexit could be implemented – the economies of the UK and EU are intertwined, as is their territory.
May told legislators that they will have to consider the British people’s will when parliament is asked to vote on a final Brexit agreement, which could potentially happen in December.
One of the most complicated issues is the prospect of a hard border in Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the UK but shares a border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state.
There were concerns about Brexit endangering the Good Friday Agreement, which provided a framework for the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday an agreement that avoids a hard border and endangering the Good Friday Agreement – even in the event of a no-deal Brexit – had been reached, according to The Guardian.
EU leaders will meet on November 25 to endorse May’s divorce deal, although the British prime minister acknowledged that a number of obstacles remained before Brexit could be finalised.
“We have been preparing for no-deal and we continue to prepare for no-deal because I recognise that we have a further stage of negotiation with the European Council and then that deal when finalised … has to come back to this House,” she told parliament.
But politicians on all sides told May that there was no way the proposed EU withdrawal agreement could pass their approval, with arch-Brexiteers and EU loyalists alike insisting it was already sunk.
“After two years of bungled negotiations, the government has produced a botched deal that breaches the prime minister’s own red lines and does not meet our six tests,” Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour party, told parliament.
Corbyn has said Labour will vote against any deal that does not meet its tests, which include delivering the same benefits Britain currently has as a member of the EU customs union and single market.
“The government is in chaos,” Corbyn said. “Their deal risks leaving the country in an indefinite halfway house without a real say.
“The government simply cannot put to parliament this half-baked deal that both the Brexit secretary and his predecessor have rejected.”