UK leader focused on passing Brexit deal despite uncertainty

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May accused the opposition Labour Party of betraying the British people by trying to stop Brexit as she went on the offensive Friday in her battle to win approval of the widely criticized divorce agreement she negotiated with the European Union.

With less than two weeks to go before a vote in the House of Commons, May is trying to win support from lawmakers of all parties who have balked at the deal. She declined to entertain questions about what alternative she might offer if the current agreement is rejected Dec. 11.

“I’ve got a plan, I’ve got a proposal, I’ve got the deal that I’ve negotiated,” she said ahead of the G-20 summit in Argentina. “We don’t see any alternative coming forward from the Labour Party. … Instead, what I see from Labour is an attempt to frustrate what the government is doing to deliver Brexit for the British people. That is actually a betrayal of the British people.”

The agreement ratified by EU leaders last weekend came more than two years after a U.K. referendum in which 52 per cent of those who cast ballots voted to leave the bloc. Some opponents are calling for a second referendum now that the costs of leaving the EU have become clear, but May says that would violate the trust of the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit in 2016.

The prime minister has been highlighting the risks of leaving the EU without a deal in a bid to persuade skeptical lawmakers — including many of her fellow Conservatives — to back the agreement.

Her efforts suffered a blow Friday when Universities Minister Sam Gyimah quit the government, saying accepting the deal would mean surrendering “our voice, our vote and our veto” in the EU.

“Britain will end up worse off, transformed from rule makers into rule takers,” Gyimah wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

Several other ministers have quit the government in the past two weeks, saying they cannot support the agreement. Some, like Gyimah, supported remaining in the bloc in Britain’s 2016 EU referendum, while others back a definitive break with the EU.

Many members of Parliament on both sides of the Brexit debate oppose the deal — Brexiteers because it keeps Britain bound closely to the EU, pro-EU politicians because it erects barriers between the U.K. and the EU, its biggest trading partner.

Leaving the EU without a deal would end more than 40 years of free trade and disrupt the flow of goods and services between Britain and the EU. The Bank of England warned this week that a no-deal Brexit would plunge Britain into a severe recession.

May’s comments came after lawmakers proposed an amendment that could stop Brexit if Parliament rejects her agreement. The amendment says Parliament must be able to express its view on how the government should proceed if the prime minister’s plan is defeated.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, a staunch Brexiteer who is one of the most vocal critics of the deal, said Friday the government was trying to frighten people into accepting it with dire forecasts about the impact of leaving the EU without an agreement.

Some lawmakers urged May to return to the EU for better terms. But European Council President Donald Tusk, who is also at the G-20 meeting in Buenos Aires, warned that the agreement ratified by the EU last weekend is “the only possible one.”

“If this deal is rejected in the House of Commons, we are left with an alternative: no deal, or no Brexit it all,” Tusk said. “The European Union is prepared for every scenario.”

May urged British lawmakers to remember that the country voted for Brexit, and insisted that the public wanted government to get on with it.

“This is about what is in the national interest,” she said. “It’s about delivering the vote to leave the EU and doing it in a way that protects people’s jobs and livelihoods and protects our security and our United Kingdom.”

Danica Kirka, The Associated Press

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