UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

A European flag and a British Union flag hang outside Europe House, the European Parliament's British offices in London, Monday, March 18, 2019. (AP)
Updated 18 March 2019

UK prime minister in last-minute push to win Brexit support

  • May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds
  • May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success”

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May was making a last-minute push Monday to win support for her European Union divorce deal, warning opponents that failure to approve it would mean a long — and possibly indefinite — delay to Brexit.
Parliament has rejected the agreement twice, but May aims to try a third time this week if she can persuade enough lawmakers to change their minds. Her aim is to have the deal agreed before EU leaders meet Thursday for a summit in Brussels.
But there was no sign of a breakthrough, and the government faces a deadline of the end of Tuesday to decide whether they have enough votes to pass the deal, so that a vote can be held on Wednesday.
May’s spokesman, James Slack, said Monday that the government would only hold a vote if there is “a realistic prospect of success.”
May is likely to ask for a delay to Brexit at the Brussels summit. If a deal is approved, she says she will ask the EU to extend the deadline until June 30 so that Parliament has time to approve the necessary legislation. If it isn’t, she will have to seek a longer extension that would mean Britain participating in May 23-26 elections for the European Parliament — something the government is keen to avoid.
May’s goal is to win over Northern Ireland’s small, power-brokering Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP’s 10 lawmakers prop up May’s Conservative government, and their support could influence pro-Brexit Conservatives to drop their opposition to the deal.
Still, May faces a struggle to reverse the huge margins of defeat for the agreement in Parliament. It was rejected by 230 votes in January and by 149 votes last week.
Influential Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said he would wait to see what the DUP decided before making up his mind on whether to support May’s deal.
“No deal is better than a bad deal, but a bad deal is better than remaining in the European Union,” he told LBC radio.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Monday he saw “cautious signs of encouragement” that the deal might make it through Parliament this week.
After months of political deadlock, British lawmakers voted last week to seek to postpone Brexit. That will likely avert a chaotic British withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29 — although the power to approve or reject a Brexit extension lies with the EU, whose leaders are fed up with British prevarication.
EU leaders say they will only grant it if Britain has a solid plan for what to do with the extra time.
“We have to know what the British want: How long, what is the reason supposed to be, how it should go, what is actually the aim of the extension?” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters in Brussels. “The longer it is delayed, the more difficult it will certainly be.”
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders agreed, saying: “We are not against an extension in Belgium, but the problem is — to do what?“
Opposition to May’s deal centers on a measure designed to ensure there is no hard border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit.
The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trading relationship is in place. Brexit supporters in Britain fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely, and the DUP fears it could lead to a weakening of the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
Talks between the government and the DUP are aimed at reassuring the party that Britain could not be trapped in the backstop indefinitely.
May said in an article for the Sunday Telegraph that failure to approve the deal meant “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”
“The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about,” she wrote.
But May suffered a setback Monday when former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson refused to support her deal.
Johnson, a staunch Brexiteer, used his column in the Daily Telegraph to argue that the backstop left the UK vulnerable to “an indefinite means of blackmail” by Brussels.


Republican stalwart Rooney ‘thinking’ about impeachment

Updated 53 min 48 sec ago

Republican stalwart Rooney ‘thinking’ about impeachment

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump gave an atta-boy to Republican Rep. Francis Rooney last year on the congressman’s home turf in swing state Florida.
“I love it when he defends me,” the president said then. He might feel differently now.
The second-term Republican said publicly Friday what others in his party are not, namely that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged a quid pro quo was at work when Trump held up US aid to Ukraine in exchange for Kyiv’s investigation of Democrats and the 2016 elections. Mulvaney later claimed his comments had been misconstrued, but Rooney said he and other Republicans heard them clearly.
“He said there’s a quid pro quo,” Rooney said of Mulvaney during a telephone interview. “I just don’t think that the power and prestige of our country is supposed to be used for political things.”
Asked whether he thinks Trump’s conduct is impeachable, Rooney replied, “I’m still thinking about it.”
Anything short of a “no” on that question, even from only one of 197 Republicans in the House, is notable amid the drive by majority Democrats to impeach Trump. The president has made clear that he does more than notice what he considers acts of disloyalty; he is fond of making examples of Republicans by threatening to sink their re-election bids and following through in a few cases.
Friday night, Trump tweeted, “REPUBLICANS MUST STICK TOGETHER AND FIGHT!” That tweet was accompanied by a video targeting Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who has been critical of Trump’s handling of Turkey’s assault on Syrian Kurds.
When Rep. Justin Amash of politically critical Michigan became the first House Republican to call for Trump’s impeachment earlier this year — and quit the party — the backlash from Trump’s orbit was swift.
But that was before revelations about Trump’s pressure on Ukraine, which made his impeachment by the end of the year a real possibility. Since the release of a rough transcript of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president, many current and former administration officials have testified before House impeachment investigators.
Then Mulvaney spoke on Thursday. Rooney said in a telephone interview that the chief of staff’s comments marked a turning point for him from giving the president “the benefit of the doubt.” And he said GOP colleagues are newly troubled.
“They were all going around saying what the president said — that there wasn’t a quid pro quo,” Rooney said. “There were a lot of Republicans looking at that headline yesterday. I think people were concerned about it.”
Rooney said he had not received any blowback from the White House for his comments, though about half of the calls he’s getting are from constituents who are critical, including “some pretty hostile” ones from ardent Trump supporters.
Only a year ago, at a presidential rally in Estero, Trump praised Rooney as “a man who’s so great to me on television. This guy is special. He was a great businessman. Now he’s a great congressman, Francis Rooney.”
He went on: “I love him when he defends me. He’s brutal. He gets the job done, right, Francis? Thank you, man.”
Rooney, 65, is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, a solid member of the Republican establishment. Among the wealthiest members of the House, he won his second term last year with 62 percent of the vote. His foreign policy bona fides come in part from his service as ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush.
His official biography tells the story of his longtime connection to the GOP. In 1984, the family started Rooney Holdings Inc. One of the company’s subsidiaries counts among its projects the presidential libraries for both Bush and his father, George H. W. Bush, the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans football stadiums, the US Capitol Visitor’s Center, the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research and the international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta.
Rooney has at times been a Trump critic. He was one of 13 House Republicans to join a Democratic effort early this year to stop the president from declaring a national emergency to fund his border wall with Mexico.
On Friday, Rooney was no longer one of Trump’s defenders, on television or elsewhere.
“Whatever may have been gray and unclear before is certainly clear now,” he said on CNN.