U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is in a frantic search for the perfect compromise. Her mission is clear: to find a way to unite the warring Brexit factions in her party before they derail the government.
May’s officials will begin work Wednesday on the wording of a new clause in her key piece of legislation preparing for the divorce from the European Union. The text needs to honor her pledge to pro-EU Tories that she’ll take account of their concerns over the possibility of leaving the bloc without a deal.
The rebels pulled back from voting against May in Parliament in London on Tuesday but only after she made a dramatic last minute appeal to them to trust her. If she fails to deliver on her promises, she will lose their goodwill and face a backlash she won’t be able to contain, people familiar with the matter said.
“I trust our PM to honor the undertaking she gave,” said Anna Soubry, one of the pro-EU Tory rebels. “I am sure a sensible amendment will be forthcoming which we can all agree to.”
May is racing against the clock on Brexit and fighting battles on multiple fronts. The U.K. will leave the EU in March next year, but talks in Brussels are struggling to make headway. The slow progress is in part because the premier can’t get her cabinet to agree on the kind of post-Brexit trade regime they want the U.K. to have with the EU.
In London, Parliament is considering crucial pieces of law that need to be passed in order for the U.K. to leave the bloc without causing legal chaos. Opposition lawmakers are trying to change the draft to bind the U.K. more closely to the EU’s trade rules.
At the same time, May must avoid angering pro-Brexit Tories, some of whom have threatened to try to oust her as leader if she betrays their vision of a clean break from the bloc.
The problem for the prime minister is that she can’t keep both sides happy. One pro-Brexit minister insisted the rebels had lost, and warned that if they continued to fight May they would only make a “no deal” divorce more likely.
No Room for Error
The premier now has until Friday to draft a legally watertight amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill which will be acceptable to both sides.
Pro-EU Tories want guarantees that Parliament will be able to stop the government taking Britain out of the EU without a deal, if negotiations break down in Brussels. May’s been resisting the demand because she doesn’t want her hands to be tied during the talks.
There’s no time to get the wording of the compromise text wrong because it will probably be debated and voted on in the House of Lords on Monday, according to one senior government official. If the compromise fails, the rebels are likely to revert back to their original motion, which would potentially strip May of control over running the Brexit negotiations and hand it to Parliament, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Either way, the chances are increasing that Parliament will get a greater say over Brexit. “At the start of this process, we had no vote in Parliament on the final deal at all. Now we have a real vote and an opportunity for Parliament to influence and approve the final deal,” Nicky Morgan, a high-profile pro-EU lawmaker, said in an interview. “But there is more work to do, which is why this is not yet over.”