Theresa May pushes on with Brexit agenda after tough EU summit

Theresa May, Politics, Brexit, EU
British PM Theresa May

Theresa May is set for another tough political week as she battles to keep her Brexit plans on track after a bruising EU summit in Brussels.

Ahead of an expected statement to MPs on Monday, the British Prime Minister is assessing her EU withdrawal agenda in light of a tense showdown with European leaders.

The Times reported that a number of Cabinet ministers now consider the Withdrawal Agreement to be dead in the water, and are reluctantly considering the prospect of a new referendum to settle the question.

Nigel Farage said he believes the UK may face a second referendum in the coming months and urged Brexit campaigners to “get ready for every situation”.

Speaking at the Leave Means Leave rally on Friday, the former UKIP leader said: “My message, folks, tonight is, as much as I don’t want a second referendum, it would be wrong of us on a Leave Means Leave platform not to get ready, not to be prepared for a worst case scenario.”

Senior Tories such as former chancellor Ken Clarke urged Mrs May to reach out to Labour MPs to try to find common ground to move forward.

It was also reported that Mrs May told EU senior figures she might as well put her Brexit deal before MPs next week if no further reassurances on the controversial Irish border backstop measures would be coming from Brussels.

The British PM cancelled a Commons vote on her Brexit deal scheduled for last Tuesday after she admitted it faced a “significant” defeat.

The Financial Times quoted a close aide to the PM saying: “At the point where there is no prospect of getting anything more from the EU, that’s when you would have to put the vote.”

However, Government sources made it clear to the Press Association that there was unlikely to be a Commons vote on the Withdrawal Agreement next week.

Mid-January has been suggested as a more likely date for such a showdown.

But, Mrs May, who survived a bid by backbench Brexiteer Tories to topple her, could face a no-confidence vote from Labour.

However, the Labour leadership has made it clear it will only strike when it considers the Government to be at its most vulnerable.

Meanwhile, CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn expressed concern about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, saying it could lead to food shortages.

She told Channel 4 News: “We need to find a way not to have no deal.

“Because the damage to jobs, and employment, and growth will be very significant indeed.

“So, we know that we would have delays at customs. We know that there could be a reduction of capacity of up to 80% at Dover.

“This means that businesses will not be able to get their parts. It means that food will not be on shelves.”

A combative EU summit left Mrs May insisting she was still on track to win assurances on the controversial Irish backstop proposals.

Putting a positive gloss on the EU summit, the British Prime Minister said further talks would take place in the coming days on measures she hopes will persuade MPs to back the Brexit agreement in Parliament.

EU leaders acknowledged the need to “bring down the temperature” after appearing to rebuff her calls for assurances on the Northern Ireland backstop.

Many Tory Brexiteers, and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that Mrs May depends upon for a Commons majority, have rejected the backstop proposals.

The backstop would see the return of a hard border in Northern Ireland avoided by the UK remaining under EU customs rules if no trade agreement is struck with the EU after a Brexit transition period.

EU tensions erupted into public view when a visibly angry Mrs May was seen berating European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker over remarks he had made during the press conference in the early hours of Friday.

The British Prime Minister was apparently infuriated after he described the British negotiating position as “nebulous and imprecise”, and called on the Government to spell out exactly what it wanted from the talks.

Mr Juncker said he had been able to convince her that his remarks had referred to the wider Brexit debate in the UK, joking: “After having checked what I said yesterday night, she was kissing me.”