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Brexit or bust: May faces D-day

Heading precariously into the Commons historic vote, May stands determined to get Brexiteers behind her EU deal

Brexit or bust: May faces D-day

After suffering three defeats in parliament on Tuesday this week and a tenth Tory minister resigning late last week, chances of more faithful members abandoning what critics call Prime Minister Theresa May's 'sinking ship' cannot be ruled out. But given her record of resilience, she is determined to fight it out all the way till the Commons historic vote on December 11 and beyond.

The resignation of Sam Gyimah, the Science and Universities Minister, is seen as simply opportunistic. Indeed resignations and revolts have become passé. They no longer make hard news. However, opposition Labour Party is looking for its kill. The party's Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, is determined to bring a no-confidence motion after parliament rejects Prime Minister May's EU deal. Even before that vote, cutting across party lines, MPs forced the government through a 'contempt' of parliament vote to place before it the 'full' legal advice to the government on Brexit by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.

Still making waters muddier, the Advocate General of European Court of Justice fired a googly by saying that the UK could simply cancel its Leave or Withdrawal notice and remain in the EU.

Further confounding the confusion, a surprise advice from spoilsport ally across the Atlantic has surfaced. President Donald Trump has let it be known that the British deal with EU could make trade between Washington and London more difficult. In his typical undiplomatic style, Trump said that such a deal sounded like it would be a good deal for the EU, adding: ' I think we have to take a look seriously whether or not the UK Is allowed to trade because right now if you look at the deal, they may not be able to trade with us....And that wouldn't be a good thing. I don't think they meant like that.' He hoped that the British Prime Minister would be able to address the problem without specifying anything in detail.

Notwithstanding such twists and turns, Parliament's vote next Tuesday is fixed, with most observers expecting May to lose. Yet her party may not insist on toppling her forthwith, giving her another chance to come up with something better or giving the party some time to elect a new leader, thus frustrating Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's dream to call for a general election and capture power. The nine Northern Ireland MPs of the Democratic Unionist Party, despite all their vehement opposition to the EU's backstop conditions, are unlikely to support any no-confidence vote against May.

Another scenario catching sizeable attention is the possibility of a second referendum on the entire Brexit issue. Voices from a wide spectrum of public opinion are in favour of a second shot at the Leave or Remain choice because the winning margin, 52-48, of the initial referendum, was too narrow, unconvincing and not sufficiently representative. Leading voices for a second referendum include Liberal Democrats like Sir Vince Cable and his dwindling band of MPs, having their numbers reduced from 34 to about a third since the last general election. Other voices include former prime minister Tony Blair and his band of lost leaders.

However, it may not work out like that. May still insists that she will keep her job even after December 11. A defeat by a small margin could give her more time to win more MPs to her side. In the meantime, she would be speaking to the general public and voters outside Parliament to gather more people behind her and win the game. She will hammer her message by telling voters that her deal delivers the promise of drastically curbing immigration or free movement of people between Europe and Britain, the most populist demand of Brexiteers. It also ensures junking the EU's common agricultural and fisheries policies, besides reducing payments to EU and limiting the power of the European Court of Justice which has become a highly emotive issue.

With all odds stacked against her, the Tory party may only topple her and elect a new leader as Prime Minister without calling for a general election. Yet things may unfold even more differently. Theresa May is known, in her own words, as 'a bloody difficult woman.' She may tour the country to drum up support for her Brexit deal while asking various constituency voters to see that their MPs stay in line and not act according to their personal whims and preferences. Only time will tell who follows whom. All bets off.

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

Subhash Chopra

Subhash Chopra

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