UK PM Theresa May reaches out to rivals for Brexit plan B after winning confidence vote
LONDON – Agence France-Presse
After a tumultuous 24 hours which she admitted voters might find “unsettling”, she conceded the divorce terms she struck with the EU had been roundly rejected, but vowed to work to find an alternative.
“Now MPs have made clear what they don’t want, we must all work constructively together to set out what parliament does want,” May said in a televised evening address to the nation.
On Jan. 15, MPs dealt the prime minister the heaviest drubbing in modern British political history by rejecting the divorce agreement by a stunning 432 votes to 202.
She set out a schedule of cross-party talks that began immediately with meetings with the Scottish nationalist, Welsh nationalist and the pro-EU Liberal Democrat leaders.
“We must find solutions that are negotiable and command sufficient support in this House,” she had told earlier told parliament.
The prime minister is working to the tightest-possible deadline as Britain prepares to leave the bloc that for half a century defined its economic and political relations with the rest of the world.
May must return to parliament on Jan. 21 with a Plan B that she and her team intend to negotiate with various MPs through the weekend.
May said she was “disappointed” by Corbyn’s decision and stressed that “our door remains open”.
On Jan. 16 evening her spokesman said the possibility of a “no deal” had not been ruled out.
Ian Blackford of the Scottish National Party (SNP) said his party would only participate if she were prepared to consider delaying Brexit, ruling out “no deal” and the option of holding a second referendum.
Her offer to meet with the opposition “rings hollow without evidence of her readiness to compromise on the substance of Brexit”, the Guardian newspaper said, pushing for a “menu of options” to be presented to parliament.
Meanwhile the Daily Telegraph warned that parliament “may be planning a betrayal”.
“After two-and-a-half years, Plan B is to let parliament take over,” the Telegraph said. “At least it is a plan; but is parliament capable of delivering on the referendum result, or is this the start of a great betrayal of that vote?”
May will therefore tread carefully as she tries to win over opposition lawmakers - many of whom want to remain in the EU - while also attempting to appease more hardened Brexit-backing coalition partners.
She stuck to two key principles on Jan. 16: limiting EU migration and pursuing an independent trade policy.
May said the EU would allow this “if it was clear that there was a plan that was moving toward an agreed deal.”
EU officials have said extending the negotiating period could be possible until the newly elected European Parliament meets in July.
European leaders have repeatedly said they will not reopen the draft withdrawal agreement sealed at a special Brussels summit in December.
French President Emmanuel Macron suggested the EU might be willing to tweak a few minor points - but only if they did not alter the bloc’s existing position on trade and borders.
“We won’t, just to solve Britain’s domestic political issues, stop defending European interests,” he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was time for talks as long as London could present a clear and united position.
“We’re now waiting on what the prime minister proposes,” she said.
And Irish Prime Leo Varadkar added “that if the United Kingdom were to evolve from its red lines on the customs union and on the single market, that the European Union could evolve also.”