British Prime Minister Theresa May has warned members of her Conservative party against a revolt over her proposed Brexit deal, saying that a change of leadership will not aid negotiations with Brussels.
‘The next seven days are critical,’ May told broadcaster Sky News on Sunday, as she faces a possible leadership challenge over her plan for the country's exit from the European Union.
May said she was headed to Brussels for talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker before EU leaders gather on November 25 to finalize the draft Brexit agreement.
May's draft deal with the EU was approved by her cabinet on Wednesday, but prompted a wave of resignations and criticism from lawmakers in her party, with many calling for a no-confidence vote.
The prime minister said that her meeting with Juncker will focus on Britain's ‘future relationship’ with the EU. It is considered highly unlikely that the EU leadership would be open to significant revisions to the withdrawal deal both sides agreed to last week.
The former lead negotiator on Brexit, Dominic Raab, hit out at the deal in an interview with The Sunday Times. Raab said the message had not reached EU negotiators that Britain would not be ‘blackmailed and bullied’ by Brussels.
Some figures in Brussels had shown ‘predatory’ behaviour, he said, and argued that Britain needed to have a tougher approach.
May has presented the draft agreement with the EU as ‘the best deal for Britain,’ but criticism from all sides means she faces a huge battle to get the approval of the British Parliament.
If May's deal is voted down, then Britain faces the chaotic prospect of leaving the EU without an agreement on March 29, 2019.
‘We need to be very honest with the country that we will not be bribed and blackmailed or bullied and we will walk away’ if necessary, Raab said.
He also had sharp words for the Irish government, which he said had ‘behaved irresponsibly for political purposes’ when it came to the thorny issue of the ‘backstop’ - an agreement covering the status of the Irish border.
May defended her deal on Sky news on Sunday, describing it ‘as the right deal in the national interest.’ She faces intense pressure from an alliance of hardline Brexit supporters within her party who want her to re-enter negotiations with the EU.
A number of May's party members have already submitted letters backing a vote of confidence. According to media reports, a vote could take place as early as Tuesday.
Yet May said on Sunday that, to her knowledge, the threshold for the minimum number of letters needed to prompt a no-confidence vote had not yet been reached.
The threat of further resignations still lingers over May. An alliance within her cabinet around the Conservatives' parliamentary leader Andrea Leadsom is demanding improvements to the so-called ‘backstop’ at the Irish border.
May's deal would maintain free movement of goods and people across the Irish border - a central tenet of peace in the former conflict zone - once Britain leaves the EU in March.
If no other solution can be found, the backstop will apply following a 21-month transitional period to keep an open border between the Republic of Ireland, which will remain an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which will leave the bloc with the rest of the United Kingdom.
But the backstop could hinder the UK's ability to implement trade deals with countries like the US.
Leadsom told the BBC on Saturday that the deal needed improving and that the ‘UK cannot be trapped in a permanent customs arrangement.’ Many are sceptical as to whether the EU would make significant concessions if forced back to the negotiation table.
The leaders of EU states are due to make a decision on the proposed Brexit deal on November 25.
May faces an uphill struggle to get the deal through parliament. The leaders of her Northern Irish allies the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the opposition Labour party have both signalled that they would not back the deal in a vote.
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