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UK faces ‘moment of crisis’ if Brexit deal rejected, warns May

Theresa May issued a last-ditch plea to the EU to give ground in order to help get her Brexit deal through on Tuesday.

Theresa May (Christopher Furlong/PA)
Theresa May (Christopher Furlong/PA)

Theresa May has issued a plea for support as the showdown on her Brexit deal looms, warning the UK will be plunged into crisis if MPs reject the Withdrawal Agreement.

In a stark message ahead of Tuesday’s Commons vote, the Prime Minister said “no-one knows” what will happen if her plan is defeated, with the possibility of Brexit being derailed completely.

Mrs May said both the democratic and economic cases for backing her deal are “clear”, and issued a plea to MPs: “Let’s get it done.”

The Prime Minister used her speech in Leave-supporting Grimsby to both urge the European Union to give ground on the Northern Ireland backstop and call on Tory Eurosceptics to recognise that failure to back the deal could result in a softer Brexit or another referendum.

“Next week, MPs in Westminster face a crucial choice: Whether to back the Brexit deal or to reject it,” she said.

“Back it and the UK will leave the European Union. Reject it and no-one knows what will happen.

“We may not leave the EU for many months, we may leave without the protections that the deal provides. We may never leave at all.”

Rejection of the deal would be a “moment of crisis”.

Her speech comes after talks involving Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and EU negotiator Michel Barnier failed to make progress.

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Mrs May used her speech to appeal to EU leaders to help find a deal that MPs can support (Christopher Furlong/PA)

Aiming her words directly at EU leaders, Mrs May said: “Now is the moment for us to act. We’ve worked hard together over two years on the deal. It’s a comprehensive deal that provides for an orderly exit from the EU and sets the platform for an ambitious future relationship.

“It needs just one more push to address the final specific concerns of our Parliament. So let’s not hold back. Let’s do what is necessary for MPs to back the deal on Tuesday.”

Mrs May also sent a message of warning to hardline Brexiteers considering voting against her deal next week.

That could lead to an extension of Article 50 and possibly “a form of Brexit that does not match up to what people voted for”, or a second referendum.

Addressing workers at the Orsted wind turbine plant, she said a softer Brexit deal “could mean no end to free movement, no ability to strike our own trade deals, no end to the big annual payments, no taking back control”.

And she accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of supporting “a divisive second referendum that would take the UK right back to square one”.

She added: “If MPs reject the deal, nothing is certain. We would be at a moment of crisis.

“MPs would immediately be faced with another choice. Either we leave the EU with no deal on March 29 – I don’t believe that would be the best outcome for the UK or the EU – or we delay Brexit and carry on arguing about it, both amongst ourselves and with the EU. That is not in our interests either.

“More talking will not change the questions that need to be settled, and delay risks creating new problems.”

Mrs May added that if the UK asks for a delay simply to give MPs more time to decide what to do, “the EU might insist on new conditions that were not in our interests”.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned Brussels that a failure to co-operate on securing changes to the Brexit deal could “poison” relations with the EU for years.

“This is a moment of change in our relationship between the UK and the EU and history will judge both sides very badly if we get this wrong,” Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The EU said technical discussions are ongoing and insisted Brussels has already come forward with ideas to resolve the deadlock.

Mr Barnier said: “We are not interested in the blame game, we are interested in the result.

“We are still working.”

After briefing EU ambassadors, Mr Barnier said in a tweet that the UK would not be “forced into customs union against its will” – but indicated that could result in the split between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK that Mrs May had previously said was unacceptable.

He said the EU “commits to give UK the option to exit the Single Customs Territory unilaterally, while the other elements of the backstop must be maintained to avoid a hard border”.

Irish premier Leo Varadkar said the UK Government had failed to offer any solutions on the Withdrawal Agreement.

We were and remain happy to apply the backstop only to Northern Ireland if they want to go back to that, it doesn't have to trap or keep all of Great Britain in the single customs territory at all or for a long period Leo Varadkar

Speaking in Dublin, he said the deal reached in November, including the Irish backstop, was “already a compromise” delivered in response to British requests.

“We were and remain happy to apply the backstop only to Northern Ireland if they want to go back to that, it doesn’t have to trap or keep all of Great Britain in the single customs territory at all or for a long period,” said Mr Varadkar.

But DUP leader Arlene Foster called for Dublin and Brussels to take a “fresh approach”.

“A sensible deal requires the EU27 to be reasonable and pragmatic,” she said.

“The European Union must be in deal-making mode.”

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