Theresa May struck a deal to revise the terms of the UK’s divorce from the European Union but it’s unclear whether she’s done enough to win Parliament’s support in a crucial vote on Tuesday.
After a chaotic day of changing plans in London, the prime minister made a last-minute decision to fly to Strasbourg, France, for late talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. More than two hours later— at 11:40 pm—the weary leaders sat down for a joint news conference to announce changes they both hope will now put an end to the tortuous negotiations that have defined the UK’s exit from the 28-country bloc. It remains to be seen if the new wording will convince her country’s lawmakers to sign off on the plan in a crunch vote Tuesday night.
“The choice is clear: it is this deal, or Brexit may not happen at all,” Juncker said. “Let’s bring the UK’s withdrawal to an orderly end. We owe it to history.”
When it was her turn, May appealed to Parliament— where her own Conservative Party is bitterly divided. “Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people,” she said. With just 17 days left until the UK’s scheduled departure date, talks have been stuck on the same issue that has blocked progress for the past year: the backup plan intended to ensure there’s never any need for customs checks at the land border between Ireland and the UK.
Pro-Brexit politicians in May’s Tory party insist that the plan— known as the backstop —threatens to trap the UK inside the EU’s trade regime forever, because it would be impossible for Britain to leave. The backstop effectively keeps Britain in the EU’s customs union —and therefore unable to strike free trade deals with other countries around the world, ruining a key prize for staunch Brexit supporters. After Parliament rejected the deal in a defeat of historic proportions in January, May promised to seek changes to address these concerns.
Talks have been ill-tempered and optimism faded over the weekend. First thing on Monday, May’s officials said negotiations were “deadlocked” as the EU continued to refuse to shift course.