Prime Minister Theresa May defended her plan for leaving the European Union (EU) as the only viable option, and called on voters and lawmakers to get behind it or “risk ending up with no Brexit at all.”
“I am not going to Brussels to compromise our national interest,” May wrote in the Mail on Sunday. “I am going to fight for it. I am going to fight for our Brexit deal – because it is the right deal for Britain.”
May faces tricky votes in the House of Commons this week that Euroskeptics in her Conservative Party see as a test of opposition to her Brexit policy, which lays out a closer relationship to the EU’s single market that many hoped for.
Boris Johnson, the former foreign minister, and David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, resigned over it, fueling speculation of a possible leadership challenge.
“This jeopardises the opportunities offered by Brexit,” Davis wrote in the Financial Times on Sunday. “The chance to become a credible trading partner will be compromised and we will be unable to strike free-trade deals.”
May’s Brexit blueprint calls for a new UK-EU “free trade area” with interlinked customs regimes, but critics argue that it would leave Britain signed up to rules on trade it would no longer have any ability to influence and prevent it from signing trade deals with non-EU countries.
US President Donald Trump said in an interview in the Sun newspaper last week that too much regulatory alignment with the EU would “kill” a trans-Atlantic free-trade deal.
He also criticised May for the way she handled negotiations with the EU and said the deal she’s pursuing “is not what the people voted on.”
At a joint press conference on Friday, Trump softened his criticism of May’s leadership – though he didn’t back off from his central warning on trade.
“The only thing I ask of Theresa is that we make sure we can trade, that we don’t have any restrictions, because we want to trade with the UK and the UK wants to trade with us,” Trump said.
He also revealed that May had rejected his earlier “suggestion” for how to deal with the EU because it was too “brutal,” without saying what it was.
May revealed on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday that Trump advised her to “sue the EU, not go into negotiations, sue them.”
Having endured the turbulence of Trump’s visit, May’s attention was immediately on another tough week in Parliament.
She invited Conservative lawmakers who she hopes to persuade to back her Brexit plan, including Cheryl Gillan, John Penrose and Edward Leigh, to her Chequers country retreat shortly after Trump’s entourage departed.
The challenge is considerable. Steve Baker, the Brexit minister who quit along with Davis, accused her in The Sunday Telegraph of presiding over a “cloak and dagger” plot to undermine Brexit.
In her Mail on Sunday letter, May warned parliamentarians seeking to scuttle the plan – and also those trying to force amendments to strengthen post-Brexit EU ties – that they risk causing “a damaging and disorderly Brexit.”
She said her proposal is the only way to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit, while also protecting supply chains and the jobs that depend on them.
“We’re going to be able to cut tariffs, we’re going to be able to change quotas, we’re going to be able to have freedom on services, we’re going to be able to have bilateral investment deals,” May said on the BBC. “This is a good deal for the UK.”
May will get a sense of where she stands on Monday when the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) returns to the House of Commons.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, has offered amendments to the bill. On paper, only seven Conservatives need to rebel for it to be defeated – though it depends on how lawmakers from other parties vote.
It’s unlikely that opposition Labour Party lawmakers seeking a soft Brexit will help May get her plans through.
Peter Mandelson, Britain’s former trade commissioner in Brussels and a Labour peer in the House of Lords, said in the Observer that May’s plans would deliver “the polar opposite of taking back control.”
“Britain, in effect, would be entrapped and the more you think through the implications the more the whole thing looks less like a soft Brexit than a national humiliation,” he wrote.
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