Theresa May has 9 days to avoid an enormous defeat on her Brexit deal

Prime Minister Theresa May. Paul Ellis – WPA Pool/Getty Images
  • Theresa May has nine days to avoid huge parliamentary defeat on her Brexit deal.
  • Leaked legal advice on the Irish backstop is set to outrage pro-Brexit MPs ahead of the meaningful vote.
  • The advice, which May has refused to publish in full, reportedly confirms that the UK could be stuck with EU customs rules for years after Brexit.
  • Pro-EU Conservative MPs are leading growing calls for another referendum.
  • The prime minister doubled down on her deal when quizzed by journalists in Argentina on Saturday.
  • Labour confirms it will submit a no confidence motion in the government if May loses the vote.

LONDON – Theresa May faces a bigger than expected defeat on her Brexit deal with the potential to threaten her leadership, with the number of MPs set to vote for her deal in nine days time looking smaller by the day.

The prime minister has spent the last week touring the United Kingdom in an attempt to get the British public behind her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and encourage them to tell their MPs to vote for it on Tuesday, December 11.

However, rather than warm to the deal, a growing number MPs from all sides are lining up to lambast it. ConservativeHome estimated on Friday that she could lose the “meaningful vote” by a margin of up to 180 MPs.

Pro-Brexit MPs, already irked by the divorce package, are set to be outraged again this week, this time by leaked legal advice which confirms that the UK could be trapped in a customs union with the EU indefinitely after Brexit.

Secret legal advice given to May’s government and leaked to The Times says that under the agreed backstop proposal for avoiding a hard Irish border, the UK would be wedded to EU customs rules for years after Brexit, with years of further negotiation needed before it has a chance of breaking away.

In this scenario – which will come into effect if a sufficient new UK-EU trading relationship isn’t in ready by the end of the transition period – the UK would have a reduced ability to sign new trade deals and Northern Ireland would be in parts of the single market, creating controversial new checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

This potential outcome is loathed by Brexiteers and the Democratic Unionist Party which props up the government.

The prime minister has so far refused to give MPs the full legal advice, with one source in her Cabinet telling The Times: “The legal advice is very bad, which is why they don’t want anyone to see it.”

In the meantime, pro-EU Conservative MPs mobilising amid growing calls for another Brexit referendum.

On Friday night, Sam Gyimah quit as May’s science and universities minister in protest against the prime minister’s “naive” Brexit deal. The UK would be “worse off, transformed from rule makers into rule takers,” he said.

Business Insider revealed that Gyimah will be the next Tory MP to officially back the People’s Vote campaign for another referendum, joining Jo Johnson who also quit government to back the campaign this month.

The government is braced for more pro-EU MPs to quit, the Mail On Sunday reports, with Business Secretary Greg Clark, Lord Chancellor David Gauke and minister Margot James spotted with Gyimah and Johnson this week.

James has since denied she is planning to resign but senior People’s Vote campaigners are confident of signing up more Conservative MPs as the March 2019 deadline for leaving the European Union approaches.

MPs will begin a five-day debate on May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday before voting on it the following week.

Shadow Brexit Secretary, Labour MP Keir Starmer, told Sky News on Sunday it is “inevitable” that Labour would move a no confidence motion in the government if May’s Brexit deal is voted down on December 11.

“There has to be a question of confidence in the government… I think it is inevitable we will move that,” Starmer said.

May dodged questions about her own future when quizzed by journalists in Argentina on Saturday.

“There is a lot more for me still to do, not least delivering on Brexit and being the prime minster that does take the United Kingdom out of the European Union,” she told reporters at the G20 summit, adding that she’d be “talking with members of parliament obviously and explaining to them why this is a good deal for the UK.”