Theresa May casts doubt over her future if MPs vote down Brexit deal

Prime minister says her only focus is on persuading MPs to support her plan – but refuses to be drawn on what will happen if they don’t

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Friday 23 November 2018 15:39
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Theresa May faces public interrogation in live radio phone-in as Brexit negotiations with Europe continue

Theresa May has cast doubt over whether she will carry on as prime minister if MPs vote down her Brexit deal, as she warned her critics that the EU will not offer further concessions on the current plan.

The prime minister repeatedly dodged questions during a radio phone-in on whether she would resign if Tory MPs follow through on their threats to block the proposed withdrawal agreement.

She also refused to say that the deal would be better for the UK than the status quo of EU membership.

Ms May is preparing to travel to Brussels for a special European Council meeting at which the other EU member states will decide whether to sign off the proposed withdrawal agreement. She will also hold last minute-talks on Saturday with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.

The prime minister was dealt a fresh blow ahead of the summit when Dominic Raab, who resigned as her Brexit secretary last week, said the proposed exit deal was worse than remaining in the EU.

Despite the growing backlash from her own backbenchers, the prime minister told a BBC Radio 5 Live phone-in that she remain determined to ensure the deal is approved by the Commons.

Asked whether she might resign if the plan is rejected, she said: “I’m focused on actually ensuring that we do get this deal through parliament, because I believe that this is absolutely the right deal for the UK.”

Pushed on whether she could resign, she added: “This isn’t about me. As I’m sitting here, I’m not thinking about me, I’m thinking about getting a deal through that delivers for the people of this country. That’s what drives me and that is what’s at the forefront of my mind.”

Asked for a third time if she might quit, she said simply: “My focus is on getting this deal through.”

The prime minister also refused to say definitively that she believes her Brexit deal is better for the UK than remaining in the EU.

She said: “I honestly believe that I’m getting a good deal for the UK.

“I recognise that there were aspects of being in the European Union that caused people real concern, and free movement was one of those.”

Ms May said that, despite having campaigned for Remain, she “wasn’t one of those who said that if we leave the EU, it will be really bad for the UK – I actually said the sky won’t fall in”.

She said Brexit would create a “different world, but it will be a good one”, adding: “I genuinely believe there’s a bright future for this country and our best days lie ahead of us.”

Pressed again on whether she was confident the UK would be better off under the terms of her deal than under EU membership, she said only: “I think we will be better off in a situation, which we’ll have outside the European Union, where we have control of all those things and are able to trade around the rest of the world.

“It’s different. You said ‘better off’ but actually it’s a different sort of environment and a different approach that we’ll be taking to things.”

Asked again if her deal would be better than the status quo, she said: “It’s going to be different and I believe we can build a better future outside the European Union.”

Earlier in the day, Mr Raab said MPs would “inevitably” vote down Ms May’s plan, which he claimed was worse than EU membership.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m not going to advocate staying in the EU.

“But, if you just presented me terms, this deal or EU membership, because we would effectively be bound by the same rules but without the control or voice over them, yes, I think this would be even worse than that.”

Ms May’s talks with Mr Juncker are likely to focus on how the EU could help her sell the deal at home, but UK and EU leaders will also need to ensure it receives the backing of the 27 other member states.

The Spanish government is threatening to oppose the proposal unless changes are made in relation to Gibraltar.

Up to 80 Conservative MPs have also threatened to vote against Ms May’s proposed agreement when it is put before the Commons, casting doubts over her ability to get it through parliament.

Some MPs believe she would then have to return to Brussels to negotiate a different deal.

Former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab has said Theresa May's EU withdrawal proposals are worse than staying in the EU

However, the prime minister warned her critics that the EU will not offer further concessions.

She said: “If we were to go back to the European Union and say, ‘People didn’t like that deal, can we have another one?’ I don’t think they are going to come to us and say, ‘We will give you a better deal.’

“This is the deal that I think works for the UK.”

And she warned MPs that rejecting her plan would lead to more “uncertainty and division” and insisted the public wants politicians to deliver Brexit.

She said: “In parliament there’s a lot of focus on who’s going to vote for the deal or not, and outside I think people are thinking, ‘Actually, let’s make sure we can get this through and get on with delivering.’

“If this deal doesn’t go through we are back at square one. What we end up with is more uncertainty and more division.”

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