Three UK Conservatives quit party in
protest at "disastrous Brexit"
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[February 20, 2019]
LONDON (Reuters) - Three pro-EU lawmakers
from Britain's governing Conservatives quit over the government's
"disastrous handling of Brexit" on Wednesday, in a blow to Prime
Minister Theresa May's attempts to unite her party around plans to leave
the European Union.
The lawmakers, long critical of May's Brexit strategy to leave the EU
which they believe is being driven by Conservative eurosceptics, said in
a statement they would join a new group in parliament set up by seven
former opposition Labour politicians.
May said she was saddened by the resignations, but signaled she would
press on with her attempts to win a deal before Britain is due to leave
the bloc on March 29.
But the resignations put May in an even weaker position in parliament,
where her Brexit deal was crushed by lawmakers last month when
eurosceptics and EU supporters voted against an agreement that both
sides say offers the worst of all worlds.
They could also undermine May's negotiating position in Brussels, where
she is going later on Wednesday for talks with Commission President
Jean-Claude Juncker to try to secure an opening for further technical
work on revising the agreement.
With only 37 days until Britain leaves the EU, its biggest foreign and
trade policy shift in more than 40 years, divisions over Brexit are
redrawing the political landscape. The resignations threaten a
decades-old two-party system.
"The final straw for us has been this government's disastrous handling
of Brexit," the three lawmakers, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah
Wollaston, said in a statement.
"We no longer feel we can remain in the party of a government whose
policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP,"
they said, referring to a group of Conservative pro-Brexit lawmakers and
the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party which props up the
government in parliament.
May acknowledged that Britain's membership of the EU "has been a source
of disagreement both in our party and in our country for a long time"
adding that leaving the bloc "was never going to be easy".
"But by delivering on our manifesto commitment and implementing the
decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our
country. And in doing so, we can move forward together towards a
brighter future," she said.
The three said they would now sit with a new grouping in parliament that
broke away from the Labour Party earlier this week over increasing
frustration with their leader Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit strategy and a row
Another former Labour lawmaker joined their ranks late on Tuesday, and
several politicians from both the main opposition party and
Conservatives said they expected more to follow from both sides of
[to top of second column]
British lawmaker Anna Soubry is seen outside the Houses of
Parliament in London, Britain, January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Henry
For May's Brexit plan, the resignations are yet another blow to more
than two years of talks to leave the EU, which have been punctuated
by defeats in parliament, rows over policy and a confidence vote,
which she ultimately won.
Britain's 2016 EU referendum, when 52 percent voted to leave versus
48 to remain, has split not only British towns and villages but also
parliament, with both Conservative and Labour leaders struggling to
keep their parties united.
Trying to unite her party around her Brexit plan has been a
difficult balancing act for the prime minister. Eurosceptic members
of her party want a clean break with the bloc, pro-EU lawmakers
argue for the closest possible ties, while many in the middle are
increasing frustrated over the lack of movement.
Those who have resigned have long accused May of leaning too far
towards Brexit supporters, sticking to red lines which they, and
many in Labour, say have made a comprehensive deal all but
impossible to negotiate.
But May will head to Brussels hoping that her team may get the green
light to start more technical negotiations on how to satisfy the
concerns of mostly Brexit supporters over the so-called Northern
Irish backstop arrangement.
The "backstop", an insurance policy to prevent the return of a hard
border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU
member Ireland if the Brexit negotiations fail to come up with a
future relationship to prevent it, is the main point of contention
in ongoing talks with Brussels.
British officials are hoping they can secure the kind of legal
assurances that the backstop cannot trap Britain in the EU's sphere
to persuade lawmakers to back a revised deal.
But May's argument that she can command a majority in parliament if
the EU hands her such assurances is getting weaker every day. A
government defeat by eurosceptics on a symbolic vote last week
showed their muscle, while the departure of some pro-EU lawmakers
also undermines her position.
(Reporting by Kylie Maclellan, William James and Elizabeth Piper;
Writing by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Stephen Addison and Raissa
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