UK Prime Minister Theresa May called off the crucial Brexit vote in the House of Commons on December 10, in the face of overwhelming opposition. In a dramatic U-turn, May said postponing the vote – originally scheduled for December 11th – was necessary as the Northern Ireland backstop was still a divisive issue among parliamentarians. She acknowledged fears among many MPs that the backstop could keep Britain indefinitely within the customs union with the EU.
‘I have listened, I have heard those concerns and I will now do everything I possibly can to secure further assurances.’ Following the announcement, the pound tumbled to its lowest level in 18 months.
At the time of going to press, the embattled leader has embarked on a tour of European capitals in search of concessions that might rescue the Brexit deal, heading to The Hague on Tuesday morning to meet Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is usually a UK ally. From the Netherlands, she flies to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. May will also meet Presidents Donald Tusk (European Council) and Jean-Claude Juncker (Commission) ahead of the European Summit on December 13th and 14th. She is set to meet An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the margins of the meeting.
During an address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on December 11th, Juncker was stern, saying ‘we have achieved the best deal possible … it is the only deal possible. There is no room whatsoever for further renegotiation. But of course … there is room enough to give further clarification and further interpretation without opening the Withdrawal Agreement. This will not happen, everyone has to note that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be reopened.’
Tusk confirmed Brexit would be on this week’s Council agenda, insisting there could be no renegotiation on the table. May’s critics say the latest twist in the Brexit tale is bringing her downfall even closer, with Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads a group of Conservative backbench Brexiteers, describing Monday’s events as ‘a humiliating day for the country.’
• Rose O’Donovan is the editor-in-chief of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS.