By Tomáš Tengely-Evans
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May in crisis over EU deal as divisions get deeper for Tories

This article is over 3 years, 3 months old
Issue 2641
Theresa May at the European Parliament last week
Theresa May at the European Parliament last week (Pic: CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 20XY – Source: EP)

Theresa May has launched another desperate bid to delay a vote on her Brexit deal.

There is just over a month to go until Britain officially leaves the European Union (EU) on 29 March.

MPs will debate and vote on a general Brexit motion in parliament on Thursday of this week.

And May has said MPs will get to vote on her EU Withdrawal Agreement by the end of February—with no guarantee that the vote will be binding.

May hopes this will buy her time to renegotiate the terms of her deal with EU officials.

The sticking point remains Britain’s border in Northern Ireland. Under pressure from EU rulers, May accepted a “backstop”.

This is an attempt to avoid a hard border, with physical barriers and customs checks, between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Under May’s deal, there would be a two-year transition period after 29 March where the EU and Britain would remain in a “common ­customs territory”.

The backstop would kick in if the EU and Britain fail to negotiate trading agreements after those two years are up.

It would see Northern Ireland remain in the EU single market and customs union. And there would be limited customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland.


May supported a Tory backbench amendment calling for “alternative arrangements” to the backstop last month. She saw off another parliamentary defeat for the Tory government, but only by gutting her own Brexit deal.

The round of Brexit votes were part of a “neutral motion”—jargon for non?binding. But deep divisions within the Tory party and nationalist posturing mean May can’t simply ignore them. The “alternative arrangements” in the amendment could include a free trade zone between Britain and Ireland.

But the EU has already made clear that it will not renegotiate the deal—and the backstop in particular.

The EU is a regional capitalist bloc where states band together to compete with rivals such as China.

While EU rulers want free movement of goods, services and people within EU borders, they want a strong, external border to protect their profits.

A free trade area would be a chink in its customs union and its “Fortress Europe” policy that locks out refugees.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that his proposals for a permanent customs arrangement with the EU would solve the problem. But this proposal makes concessions to a big business vision of Brexit.

The answer is to exploit the Tory divisions and fight for a Brexit that benefits workers and migrants.

We need to say, “yes to freedom of movement” and “no to the single market”. And the real solution to the impasse over the backstop is for Britain to get out of Ireland.

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