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‘Back me or there may be no Brexit’

U.K. PM Theresa May warns rebel lawmakers, ahead of two crucial debates in Parliament this week

July 15, 2018 10:10 pm | Updated 10:10 pm IST - London

Moving apart:   British Prime Minister Theresa May with  then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in May 2017.

Moving apart: British Prime Minister Theresa May with then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in May 2017.

British Prime Minister Theresa May warned her divided party on Sunday that there may be “no Brexit at all” if they wrecked her plan to forge a close relationship with the European Union (EU) after leaving the world’s biggest trading bloc.

“My message to the country this weekend is simple: we need to keep our eyes on the prize,” Ms. May wrote on Facebook. “If we don’t, we risk ending up with no Brexit at all.”

Linking the fate of Brexit to her own survival in such an explicit way indicates just how precarious Ms. May’s position remains after her government was thrust into a crisis and U.S. President Donald Trump publicly criticised her Brexit strategy.

Deep divisions

With less than nine months to go before the United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, the country, the political elite and business leaders are still deeply divided over what form Brexit should take.

By warning that Brexit itself is in danger, Ms. May is sending a blunt message to the dozens of hard-line Brexiteers in her party that if they sink her premiership, then they risk squandering the victory of an EU exit that they have dreamed about for decades.

Some pro-Brexit Conservatives fear that a deal could emerge that leaves Britain tightly bound to EU rules and represents a Brexit in name only.

Seeking to strike a balance between those who want a smooth Brexit and those who fear staying too close to the EU’s orbit, Ms. May sought the approval of senior Ministers on July 6.

After hours of talks at her Chequers residence, she appeared to have won over her Cabinet, but just two days later, David Davis resigned as Brexit Secretary, followed by her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson the next day.

Ms. May called on Sunday for the country to back her plan for ”friction-free movement of goods”, saying it was the only option to avoid undermining the peace in Northern Ireland and preserving the unity of the U.K.

No alternative?

Mr. Davis, writing in The Sunday Times , said it was an ”astonishingly dishonest claim” to say there is no worked-out alternative to Ms. May’s plan.

The extent of the danger to Ms. May from rebels in her party will become clearer over the course of two debates in Parliament this week.

Pro-Brexit MPs are expected to use a debate on Monday on customs legislation to try to force her to harden up her Brexit plan, while a debate on trade on Tuesday will see pro-EU lawmakers push for even closer ties with the bloc.

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