Brexit Bulletin: May’s Final Gamble Backfires

David Goodman
Brexit Bulletin: May’s Final Gamble Backfires

(Bloomberg) -- Today in Brexit: Theresa May attempted a final desperate roll of the dice to get her deal through Parliament, but her efforts — and premiership — already looked doomed.

What’s Happening?

As Theresa May made a last-ditch plea to save her Brexit deal yesterday, she tried to present enough improvements to win over opponents on all sides. Instead, it looks like she’s ended up pleasing no one.

In a speech yesterday, the embattled prime minister unveiled a 10-point plan she said was the “one last chance” to salvage Brexit, including a promise to give members of Parliament a vote on whether to call another referendum to ratify Britain’s exit. But her pleas fell on deaf ears and, as Tim Ross reports, May now faces renewed pressure to abandon her deal entirely and quit within days.

Within minutes of her speech ending, it became clear that the gamble had backfired, as her opponents vowed to vote down her deal next month at a speed that shocked senior government officials. Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs, including Boris Johnson, joined Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and May’s Northern Irish allies in condemning her proposals. That was even after the PM also tried to appease wavering lawmakers by promising to seek alternative arrangements to mitigate the impact of the hated “backstop” plan to avoid a hard border.

But it was the offer of a vote on a second referendum, which May has regularly said would be divisive and undermine faith in democracy, that provoked most anger in the Tory ranks. It was seen as the latest evidence of the prime minister going against her previous red lines. The concession was also always likely to prove academic, as while many MPs — including a growing number in the Labour Party — have been calling to put the decision back to the people, May attached the unpalatable condition of needing to back her deal first.

After her speech, May wrote to Corbyn asking him to compromise and support her new deal, but, in reality the plan now has almost no chance of success and is at risk of a bigger defeat than her third and most recent attempt in March. Nevertheless, May has promised to put her agreement to another vote in Parliament in the first week of June — although Conservative Party colleagues will urge her to cancel that to avoid another humiliation.

Either way, May has said she will agree to the timetable for her own exit at a meeting later that week, meaning the final outcome of Brexit is nigh on impossible to predict, with her successor as Tory leader and prime minister needing to complete the process. In the meantime, the party is bracing for defeat in European elections on Thursday — a poll the U.K. wasn’t meant to take part in and has been forced to because Brexit was delayed. 

The Brexit Party leads at 37% in a YouGov/The Times survey, according to a tweet from the Times’s Sam Coates. The Liberal Democrats rank second at 19%, followed by Labour at 13%. The Conservatives rank just fifth at 7%. 

Today’s Must-Reads

The U.K. front pages today made for very uncomfortable reading for the prime minister, as this round up from Sky News shows. May’s swan song proved to be off-key, according to Bloomberg Opinion’s Therese Raphael, while John Authers suggests the new deal is already dead. In the Telegraph, Camilla Tominey says the PM’s support has run dry. Away from Westminster, Bloomberg’s Rodney Jefferson and David Hellier write that English football’s four European cup finalists offer an object lesson in the benefits of immigration. 

Brexit in Brief

Cabinet Troubles | May held a fractious, three-hour meeting with her Cabinet on Tuesday, where she made the eye-catching suggestion that Conservatives could be allowed to vote any way they liked on the second referendum question. Still, pro-Brexit Cabinet ministers including Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Chris Grayling all voiced their opposition to such a “free vote,” and May’s office later said she hasn’t decided whether she will tell her party’s politicians how to vote on the proposal.

Strong Words | Tory grandee Chris Patten, a former Cabinet minister and last governor of Hong Kong, didn’t hold back as he described Boris Johnson in a Bloomberg TV interview Tuesday. “He’s lied his way through life, he’s lied his way through politics, he’s a huckster with a degree of charm to which I am immune,” he said, adding “as well as being mendacious he’s incompetent.”

Online Debate | Lib Dem leader Vince Cable and the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage will face off in a live online debate this morning — less than 24 hours before European elections that could propel both parties further into the spotlight. Both men also wrote columns for the newspaper today.

Ferry Angry | P&O Ferries has sued the British government over its handling of no-deal Brexit preparations, saying that a 33 million-pound settlement with a rival failed to treat all the companies equally.

British Steel | A succession of lawmakers yesterday flagged the impact of Brexit on the future of British Steel, the manufacturer whose future hangs in the balance as its private equity owners seek an emergency bailout from the government. 

On the Markets | The pound strengthened Tuesday after Bloomberg reported the plan for a vote on another referendum, but then reversed. It was little changed this morning.

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