🔒 Brexit crisis: Theresa May’s next steps – The Wall Street Journal


EDINBURGH — As the Brexit crisis rumbles on, the world is watching to see what UK Prime Minister Theresa May does next. She is caught between a rock and a hard place: her party is divided over how Britain should leave the European Union (EU) and the opposition is playing into this weakness by pushing towards a general election. After narrowly surviving a vote of no confidence in her government, Theresa May must make her next moves – and fast. The deadline scheduled for Britain is March 29 and there is much work to be done if Britain is to exit the EU with a compromise agreement. The Wall Street Journal sets out her challenges and options. – Jackie Cameron

May Survives Confidence Vote but Brexit Path Still Unclear

By Jason Douglas and Max Colchester

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote in her government Wednesday, freeing her to restart the grinding process of trying to find a compromise Brexit deal that Parliament can approve.

Following hours of debate, lawmakers voted 325 to 306 to reject a no-confidence motion brought by the opposition Labour Party after Mrs. May suffered a record defeat at the hands of lawmakers Tuesday over the deal she had crafted with the European Union.

Wednesday’s victory was a rare piece of good news for Mrs. May; had the no-confidence vote succeeded it could have triggered an election. When launching the vote, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called for a general election, describing Mrs. May’s administration as a “zombie government.”

“The House has put its confidence in this government. I stand ready to work with any member of this House to deliver on Brexit,” Mrs. May told lawmakers after the result was announced.

Mrs. May invited opposition-party leaders to discuss with her in the coming days how to forge a Brexit deal that can muster majority support in Britain’s divided Parliament.

Rebels in her Conservative party who voted against Mrs. May’s deal on Tuesday rallied behind her to head off the chance of Labour coming to power.

But Mrs. May might not be safe for long. A spokesman for Labour didn’t rule out calling several more no-confidence votes in the coming weeks if she continues to flail. Meanwhile, finding a Brexit agreement that has the support of a majority in Parliament still looks like a tall order.

With Tuesday’s defeat still echoing, Mrs. May said she wants to find out what type of Brexit could garner a majority in parliament and has hinted she might be willing to compromise on some aspects of her deal.

In particular, aides said that Mrs. May’s stance on the UK’s customs union with the EU might soften now that she has won the no-confidence vote and no longer needs to keep her eurosceptic lawmakers in line. Mrs. May has been determined to free the UK to negotiate trade deals with other countries after Brexit — which would preclude staying in a tight customs union with the EU.

Any changes to the deal would require Mrs. May to reopen negotiations with Brussels, where officials have been resistant to changing a hard-fought compromise.

British lawmakers are divided over whether the UK should hold a second Brexit referendum, exit the EU without a deal, back a version of Mrs. May’s plan or extend negotiations.

On Monday, there might be a little more clarity when Mrs. May is set to lay out a “Plan B.” Then, lawmakers will be given the opportunity to amend her proposal and give some indication of where they want Brexit to head.

One amendment being considered by lawmakers would give them the power to request the EU to grant a delay to Brexit.

Another idea gaining traction is to hold a series of indicative votes where lawmakers cast a ballot on their preferred Brexit outcome. How this would work remains unclear.

“That rebound would appear to reflect some expectation that the process of resolution would be extended and that the prospect of no deal may have been diminished,” said Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England.Traders bet the impasse would result in Brexit getting delayed, reducing the chance of the UK leaving the EU without a deal, an event that could cause economic disruption. That help push the pound up against the dollar in Wednesday trading.

In the coming days, clusters of lawmakers are expected to be called in for chats with Mrs. May’s key lieutenant David Lidington as the government tries to gauge sentiment.

First, she is against radically changing the agreement she spent months hashing out with EU counterparts. Aides have said she opposes holding a second referendum or extending the negotiations.But Mrs. May has two problems.

Second, she is loath to split her party and build a consensus with the Labour Party.

The Conservatives are divided between eurosceptics who want the UK to leave the EU as quickly as possible and those who think a deal is needed to smooth its exit. Mrs. May also needs to appease her political allies, the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland, which Mrs. May relies on for a majority in Parliament.

Many Conservatives and DUP members oppose part of the withdrawal deal aimed at avoiding the re-emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland, fearing the UK could be locked in a permanent customs arrangement with EU, with no say over the trading bloc’s rules.

Addressing that concern would mean reopening a legally binding withdrawal agreement that diplomats spent more than a year negotiating, a step government officials want to avoid and EU leaders have rejected.

Officials have been more open to changing the deal’s accompanying political declaration, which loosely lays out the shape of the UK and EU’s future relationship.

The prime minister “must modify her redlines…and find a cross-party majority,” Kenneth Clarke, a veteran Conservative lawmaker told Mrs. May on Wednesday.

– Write to Jason Douglas at [email protected] and Max Colchester at [email protected]