UK cabinet minister floats ‘Plan B’ before key vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal

A close ally of British Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday became the first cabinet minister to float a possible Plan B if, as expected, parliament next week rejects her proposal to leave the European Union. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 08 December 2018

UK cabinet minister floats ‘Plan B’ before key vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal

  • May insists her deal, laboriously negotiated with the EU over many months, is the only one on the table
  • Senior officials on both sides of the EU-UK negotiations on May’s deal have voiced skepticism

LONDON: A close ally of British Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday became the first cabinet minister to float a possible Plan B if, as expected, parliament next week rejects her proposal to leave the European Union.
With her own future in the balance, May insists her deal, laboriously negotiated with the EU over many months, is the only one on the table and that the alternatives are a painful ‘no-deal’ exit from the EU or possibly no Brexit at all.
However, members of parliament, including from May’s own Conservative Party, look set to reject her deal, which envisages continued close ties with the EU, in a move that would pitch the world’s fifth-largest economy into even deeper uncertainty.
While agreeing with May that her deal provides the best option for exiting the EU, Amber Rudd, the work and pensions minister, said a Norway-style relationship with the bloc might also offer a way out of the current deadlock.
“If it (May’s plan) doesn’t get through anything could happen: people’s vote, Norway plus, any of these options could come forward,” she told BBC radio on Saturday.
Rudd told The Times newspaper in an interview her own preferred option, if May’s deal failed, was the “Norway Plus” model, adding it “seems plausible not just in terms of the country but in terms of where the MPs are.”
Norway is not an EU member but is in the bloc’s single market, which allows for free movement of goods, capital, services and people. ‘Norway plus’ envisages Britain also staying in the EU’s customs union, which Norway is not in.
Senior officials on both sides of the EU-UK negotiations on May’s deal have voiced skepticism to Reuters about the “Norway pivot” idea, saying it seems far removed from British demands for more control over rules and could need lengthy new talks.
Some pro-EU lawmakers have also expressed support for a second referendum on EU membership, or ‘a people’s vote’.

MAY’S LEADERSHIP QUESTIONED
The Times reported on Saturday that plans were being made across party lines to vote against May’s leadership if she loses Tuesday’s vote. The Daily Telegraph quoted a senior Conservative lawmaker as saying she might be forced to resign.
Rudd said she believed May should stay on as prime minister even if parliament rejects her Brexit deal. “There is no question of her going,” Rudd told the BBC.
The Times said the main opposition Labour Party was seeking an alliance with rebel Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party, the small Northern Irish party which props up May’s minority government, to call a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister.
That vote would not be binding but would place enormous pressure on May to resign, it added.
Conservative lawmaker and former leader Iain Duncan Smith was quoted in the Telegraph as saying her leadership could come into question if she lost Tuesday’s vote.
“I believe that if (May’s) response is ‘we’ve lost but we will do this all over again’, it will become a leadership issue,” he was quoted as saying.
The newspaper also said three ministers were considering resigning in opposition to her deal, without citing sources.
If the Brexit deal is rejected, ministers have 21 days to state how they intend to proceed. The government has previously said that if the agreement is rejected, Britain will leave the EU without a deal.
May’s spokesman said on Friday the vote would go ahead next week despite calls from some lawmakers for it to be delayed to avoid a defeat so big that it might bring down the government.


Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

Updated 19 min 55 sec ago

Macron spearheads pressure on Bolsonaro over Amazon fires

  • With global leaders gearing up for the G7 summit in the western French resort of Biarritz, Macron drew Bolsonaro’s ire by saying the wildfires would be high on the agenda
  • Bolsonaro had earlier blasted Macron for a colonialist mentality, prompting the French president hit back, accusing his Brazilian counterpart of lying in pledges to fight global warming

PARIS: France’s Emmanuel Macron led a growing wave of international pressure on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest Friday, telling him Paris would block efforts to seal a major trade deal.
With global leaders gearing up for the G7 summit, which opens Saturday in the western French resort of Biarritz, Macron drew Bolsonaro’s ire by saying the wildfires would be high on the agenda and pledging that delegates would hammer out “concrete measures” to tackle them.
Bolsonaro had earlier blasted Macron for a “colonialist mentality,” prompting the French president hit back, accusing his Brazilian counterpart of lying in pledges to fight global warming.
“Given the attitude of Brazil over the last weeks, the president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him at the Osaka (G20) summit” in June, a French presidential official said.
As a result, France would oppose a trade deal between the EU and South America’s Mercosur nations, effectively killing any chance of it being ratified, he said.
Moves to prioritize the Amazon wildfires on the G7 agenda won backing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeting that the fires were “heartbreaking” and offering help to put them out.
But in a sign of EU disagreement, Germany said Macron’s proposal to block the Mercosur deal was “not the right response.”
“Failing to conclude the Mercosur agreement would not contribute to reducing the clearing of the rainforest in Brazil,” a German government spokesman told AFP.
So far this year, there have been 76,720 forest fires in Brazil — the highest number since 2013, official figures show, with more than half in the Amazon rainforest.
“The Amazon rainforest — the lungs which produce 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen — is on fire,” Macron tweeted late on Thursday, suggesting it be high on the summit agenda.
But Bolsonaro blasted the move to make it a G7 item without any participation by Brazil, saying it reflected a “colonialist mentality.”
The leaders of France, the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan already face a litany of issues in Biarritz, which is on a security lockdown for the summit.
Macron met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier Friday for last-minute talks trying to soothe tensions between Tehran and Washington.
A nuclear deal between Western powers and Iran all but collapsed after Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew US support in May 2018, reimposing economic sanctions on Tehran.
“We’re at a critical moment,” Macron warned on Wednesday, acknowledging that Iran is “laying out a strategy” for exiting the 2015 deal.
“President Macron made some suggestions last week to President (Hassan) Rouhani and we believe they are moving in the right direction, although we are not definitely there yet,” Zarif told AFP in an interview.
He said he had a “good discussion” with the French leader, who would now hold talks with other European leaders to seek a way forward.
Macron’s diplomacy is a delicate task, with France seeking to roll back some of the US measures imposed as part of Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
French diplomats have raised the idea of US waivers on sanctions affecting Iranian oil exports to India and China, or a new credit line for Tehran that could help the struggling economy.
That prompted Trump to accuse Macron of sending Tehran “mixed signals” in his attempt to broker fresh talks between the longtime adversaries.
But Trump appears to be the outlier among America’s G7 partners on Iran, despite speculation that Johnson, who claims a close personal rapport with the US leader, might be more amenable to endorsing his stance.
On Friday, a British diplomatic source said the UK would continue to back the 2015 nuclear deal, which it helped broker, as the “best way” of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Iran is just one of a host of issues over which G7 members are at loggerheads, upending a formerly cosy club of rich nations.
Trump will arrive in the glitzy beachside resort on Saturday already riled by a new French law increasing taxes on US Internet giants such as Google and Facebook. He is also threatening tariffs on the European automobile sector.
Just before the summit, China fired the latest salvo in its trade war the US, announcing new tariffs on $75 billion of American imports.
But in a sign of the summit’s lowered ambitions, French officials have scrapped the idea of a joint declaration at the end, breaking a longstanding G7 tradition.