EU leaders wary of May’s pleas for help selling Brexit deal

BRUSSELS – British Prime Minister Theresa May implored European Union leaders Thursday to help her sell the Brexit divorce deal at home, only to be told that her proposals are not clear enough for the bloc to offer a helping hand now. Instead, the EU said it would plow ahead with plans for a cliff-edge … Continue reading “EU leaders wary of May’s pleas for help selling Brexit deal”

BRUSSELS – British Prime Minister Theresa May implored European Union leaders Thursday to help her sell the Brexit divorce deal at home, only to be told that her proposals are not clear enough for the bloc to offer a helping hand now.

Instead, the EU said it would plow ahead with plans for a cliff-edge "no-deal" Brexit on March 29, with a raft of contingency measures to be presented next week.

May came to an EU summit in Brussels seeking support after a week that saw her Brexit deal pilloried in Parliament and her job threatened by lawmakers from her own party. She pleaded with the 27 other EU leaders to "hold nothing in reserve" in helping her sell the Brexit deal to hostile British lawmakers.

"There is a majority in my Parliament who want to leave with a deal, so with the right assurances this deal can be passed," May said, warning her EU counterparts that failure could mean Britain crashing out of the bloc without a deal, "with all the disruption that would bring."

EU officials, however, seemed exasperated at the lack of concrete new ideas from Britain. A proposal for encouraging wording offering to give the U.K. further assurances was left out of the leaders' final summit conclusions on Brexit.

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"I do find it uncomfortable that there is an impression perhaps in the U.K. that it is for the EU to propose solutions," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at a news conference early Friday. "It is the UK leaving the EU. And I would have thought it was rather more up to the British government to tell us exactly what they want."

He said the British must "set out their expectations" within weeks if they want to make progress and avoid tumbling out of the EU without a deal.

May had earlier acknowledged that major progress was unlikely at the two-day summit, even as she tried to get tweaks to the withdrawal package that she could use to win over opponents — particularly pro-Brexit lawmakers whose loathing of the deal triggered a challenge to her leadership this week.

"I don't expect an immediate breakthrough, but what I do hope is that we can start work as quickly as possible on the assurances that are necessary," May said.

Her week from hell began Monday, when she scrapped a planned vote in Parliament on her Brexit divorce deal at the last minute to avoid a heavy defeat.

Anger at the move helped trigger a no-confidence vote among May's own Conservative lawmakers Wednesday. May won, but more than a third of her party's lawmakers voted against her in a sign of the unpopularity of her Brexit plan. To secure victory, she promised she would step down as Conservative leader before Britain's next national election, which is scheduled for 2022.

The 27 other EU nations are adamant there can be no substantive changes to the legally binding agreement on Britain's withdrawal from the bloc and declared that the deal was "not open for renegotiation."

"It is important to avoid any ambiguity," said French President Emmanuel Macron. "We can't renegotiate something which has been negotiated over several months."

The Brexit deal has many critics but one intractable issue — a legal guarantee designed to prevent physical border controls from being imposed between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU. Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord depends on having an open, invisible border with Ireland.

Brexit deadline helps Theresa May survive no-confidence vote

Wall Street Journal editor-at-large Gerry Baker says British PM Theresa May survived her party’s no-confidence vote because there is no time to elect a new leader before the January 21 deadline for the Brexit deal to be finalized.

A Brexit provision known as the backstop would keep the U.K. part of the EU customs union if the two sides couldn't agree on another way to avoid a hard border.

Pro-Brexit lawmakers strongly oppose the backstop, because it keeps Britain bound to EU trade rules and unable to leave without the bloc's consent. Pro-EU politicians consider it an unwieldy, inferior alternative to staying in the bloc.

May told EU leaders that to win U.K. backing for the deal, "we have to change the perception that the backstop could be a trap from which the U.K. could not escape."

But while Britain would like a guarantee that the backstop will be temporary, the EU insists there can be no fixed end date.

"If the backstop has an expiry date, if there is a unilateral exit clause, then it is not a backstop," said Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. "That would be to render it inoperable."

The leaders gave May a few crumbs of comfort in their summit conclusions. As a sign of goodwill, the EU said preparations for trade relationships would start as soon as possible after British and EU legislatures approved the deal.

They promised to work for speedy new trade deal with Britain to avoid triggering the backstop, and underscored that the measure was intended to be temporary, saying it "would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary."

But May remains a weakened leader atop a government and a Parliament whose members are deeply and damagingly divided over Brexit.

Juncker said it sometimes was tough to fathom his own state of mind but added: "It is even harder to understand the state of mind of the British MPs. "

British PM Theresa May survives no-confidence vote despite Brexit chaos

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May survived a vote of confidence in her leadership of her party Wednesday, but not until after a bruising challenge in which she reportedly promised she would step down before the next general election.

A leadership vote had been triggered after 48 Conservative Party MPs had written letters expressing no confidence in her leadership — 15 percent of the party’s members in the Commons.

But the vote of confidence of the broader bloc of Tory MPs went in her favor — with 200 MPs backing her leadership and 117 voting against her.

The victory means not only that May holds onto power, but also that now she cannot be formally challenged by her own party for a year. However, it also means that a third of her party voted against her, a factor that may only increase calls for her to step down in the coming months.

During brief remarks outside 10 Downing Street Wednesday night, May said she was "grateful" that a majority of parliamentary Conservatives had backed her but noted that "a significant number of colleagues did cast a vote against me and I've listened to what they've said."

The prime minister added that her government's "renewed mission" was "delivering the Brexit that people voted for, bringing the country back together and building a country that truly works for everyone."

May had faced furious criticism from members of her own party for her handling of Britain’s departure from the European Union — from which the U.K. is set to depart in March. A number of Cabinet members, including then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and two Brexit secretaries, have resigned this year over her handling of the negotiations.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, a key Brexiteer, says the result showed May did not have the support of Tory backbenchers — and was a "very bad" result for May.

"I think the prime minister should resign, she cannot get her deal through, her very bad, unsatisfactory withdrawal agreement… and having failed in her main plank of policy, it would be constitutionally normal for her to retire from the fray," he said Wednesday evening on Sky News.

"Her chancellor [Philip Hammond] said this morning that people voting against her are extremists. That means she's got 117 extremists in her party," he said. "That's not a great position for her to be in, is it?"

The Times of London reported ahead of the vote that May told Tories that she would not fight the next election, currently scheduled to be held in 2022. This appeared to be a concession to her critics, and indicated she may step down after the U.K. begins its departure from the E.U. in March.

However, she had told reporters ahead of the vote on Wednesday that she would “contest that vote with everything I’ve got.” She also warned members of her party that voting her out could lead to no Brexit and hand power to the opposition Labour Party.

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May became prime minister in 2016 after winning a leadership race after the resignation of former Prime Minister David Cameron in the wake of the Brexit referendum. May, who supported the campaign for Britain to remain in the E.U., has seen her time in office overshadowed by the question of Brexit as she has sought to keep her own party happy while also negotiating a deal with European leaders.

A vote on the deal she negotiated with Brussels was shelved this week as she admitted she did not have the votes to get the deal through Parliament, leading to lawmakers from all sides ramping up its criticism of May’s handling of Brexit.

Brexiteers, in particular, have complained that a “backstop” agreement on the Irish border included in the deal — to avoid a “hard border” between Ireland and Northern Ireland — means that her deal would keep Britain tied to a customs union with the E.U. if no trade deal can be made.

STUMBLING BLOC: HOW DID BREXIT BECOME SUCH A MESS?

There are fears that, without a clear mechanism to withdraw from that backstop by itself, Britain would be left in a “Hotel California” Brexit — a reference to The Eagles song that describes a hotel from which you can check out, but never leave.

Even though May survived the vote, she still has some daunting months ahead. It is far from clear, whenever the vote on the divorce deal takes place, whether it will pass.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted Wednesday evening that the result of the no-confidence vote "changes nothing."

"Theresa May has lost her majority in Parliament, her Government is in chaos and she's unable to deliver a Brexit deal that works for the country and puts jobs and the economy first," he added. "She must now bring her botched deal back to Parliament [for a vote] next week."

If a so-called "meaningful vote" fails to pass the Brexit deal through the House of Commons, pressure would ramp up on May to call a general election and resign. Some pro-Remain figures also have called for a second referendum, this time on the Brexit deal itself. May so far has ruled out such a vote.

Fox News' Samuel Chamberlain contributed to this report.

Adam Shaw is a reporter covering U.S. and European politics for Fox News.. He can be reached here.

‘Lord of the Rings’ actor Andy Serkis brings back Gollum to mock Theresa May over Brexit

“The Lord of the Rings” actor Andy Serkis got back into character as the iconic Gollum Sunday to mock British Prime Minister Theresa May’s controversial Brexit deal.

“We's in a nasty mess my precioussss…and there's only one way out….We wants it,” Serkis tweeted with a link to the video. “We neeeeds it!”

Serkis’ award-winning character, Gollum, is revived in a video titled, “LEAKED: Footage From Inside No. 10 Downing Street!” Serkis plays May as both Gollum and his “Lord of the Rings” alter ego Smeagol. A man enters the room and hands May a copy of the withdrawl agreement as the camera angle moves, revealing that May is actually Serkis in costume.

“Oh precious, our agreement, this is it, our deal, yes, yes. We takes back control, money, borders, laws, blue passportses,” Serkis’ May says, while channeling Gollum.

Smeagol fires back, “No, it hurts the people… makes them poorer.”

May, as Gollum, then declares that since she negotiated the deal herself it must be done, which leads to bickering back and forth with Smeagol. Gollum calls the deal “juicy and sweet,” insisting that people need it as Smeagol repeatedly chimes in, attempting to explain that the people want something else.

“We hates them,” an angry Gollum says.

As the screen fades to black, the following message appears: “The people’s vote, we wants it.”

May on Monday delayed a vote in Parliament to approve her Brexit deal, a move that presents an uncertain path ahead in Britain's lengthy divorce from the European Union — and one further imperiling the embattled prime minister's political future.

May's Conservative government does not have a majority in the House of Commons, and opposition parties — as well as dozens of Conservative lawmakers — say they will not back the Brexit deal May and EU leaders agreed upon last month. The vote had been set for Tuesday. It is not clear when it will be rescheduled.

Fox News’ Greg Norman contributed to this report.

Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.

British lawmaker booted from House of Commons after grabbing ceremonial mace in Brexit protest

The fraught debate over British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal devolved into farce Monday when a lawmaker from the opposition Labour party grabbed the House of Commons' ceremonial mace in protest of the postponement of a crucial vote on the agreement.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle's action was met with shouts of outrage from the Conservative government benches. Speaker John Bercow asked him to "put it back" while trying to restore order to the chamber. A Commons official took the mace back from the 32-year-old member and returned it to its rightful place on the table in front of the Speaker's chair.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle

The centuries-old gilded staff is the symbol of royal authority. Without it, the Commons can't meet or pass laws.

"The symbolic gesture of lifting the mace and removing it is that the will of parliament to govern is no longer there has been removed," Russell-Moyle told reporters later, according to The Guardian. "I felt parliament had effectively given up its sovereign right to govern properly."

THERESA MAY MOCKED IN GOLLUM-THEMED VIDEO

Russell-Moyle was suspended for the remainder of the day. He later tweeted: "Thankfully they haven’t locked me in the Tower of London but if they had I'd expect May to be in the cell next to me for her treatment of Parliament today. I'm allowed back tomorrow after my symbolic protest against this government, wish May wasn't allowed back."

The government postponed the vote after acknowledging in a statement that the divorce deal she struck last month with EU leaders likely would have been rejected "by a significant margin" if the vote were held Tuesday as planned. The prime minister said she would seek "assurances" from the EU and bring the deal back to Parliament. She did not set a new date for the vote. The U.K.'s departure is supposed to take place on March 29.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn requested and was granted an emergency debate set for Tuesday on the postponement.

MAY ANNOUNCES DELAY OF BREXIT VOTE

"The government has lost control of events and is in complete disarray," said Corbyn, who stopped short of calling for a vote of no-confidence but said if May could not renegotiate with the EU, "then she must make way." EU leaders have been adamant the agreement is not open for renegotiation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

EU endorses Brexit divorce deal, as fierce fight lies ahead in British parliament

In a bittersweet landmark, European Union leaders on Sunday approved an agreement on Britain's departure next year — the first time a member country will have left the 28-nation bloc.

It took leaders a matter of minutes at a summit in Brussels to endorse a withdrawal agreement that settles Britain's divorce bill, protects the rights of U.K. and EU citizens hit by Brexit and keeps the Irish border open. They also rubber-stamped a 26-page document laying out their aims for future relations after Britain leaves in March.

Barely half an hour after leaders sat down, European President Donald Tusk tweeted: "EU27 has endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the future EU-UK relations."

British Prime Minister Theresa May, waiting in the wings as the other leaders met, joined them once they had given the deal the seal of approval to discuss the next steps on the road to Brexit.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, shakes hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

May has hailed the deal as the start of a new chapter for Britain, but European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the U.K.'s departure was a tragedy.

"It's a sad day," Juncker said as he arrived.

BREXIT CHAOS CONTINUES AS UK'S THERESA MAY WARNS AGAINST A LEADERSHIP CHANGE

He told reporters that deal was "the best possible," but the summit "is neither a time of jubilation nor of celebration. It's a sad moment, and it's a tragedy."

The agreement paves the way for Britain's smooth departure from the bloc from the EU side, though a bumpy ride still awaits in the U.K.

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In a formal statement endorsing the deal, the leaders called on EU institutions "to take the necessary steps to ensure that the agreement can enter into force on 30 March 2019, so as to provide for an orderly withdrawal."

The U.K. is due to leave the EU at midnight Brussels time on March 29.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said now that the first phase was done, Britain and the EU needed to work for "an ambitious and unprecedented partnership."

"Now is the time for everybody to take their responsibility — everybody," he said.

UK'S MAY SEES BREXIT DEAL SOON AS FUTURE TIES TEXT AGREED

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the deal — the product of a year and a half of often grueling negotiations between Britain and the EU — was regrettable, but acceptable.

"I believe that nobody is winning. We are all losing because of the U.K. leaving," Rutte said. "But given that context, this is a balanced outcome with no political winners."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, speaks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

The last big obstacle to a deal was overcome on Saturday, when Spain lifted its objections over the disputed British territory of Gibraltar.

The deal must still be ratified by the European Parliament, something parliament President Antonio Tajani said would likely take place early in 2019.

Tajani said a "large majority" of European parliamentarians supported the deal.

More dauntingly for May, it also needs approval from Britain's Parliament.

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May is under intense pressure from pro-Brexit and pro-EU British lawmakers, with large numbers on both sides of the debate opposing the divorce deal and threatening to vote it down when it comes to the House of Commons next month. Brexiteers think it will leave the U.K. tied too closely to EU rules, while pro-Europeans say it will erect new barriers between Britain and the bloc — its neighbor and biggest trading partner.

Pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker Iain Duncan Smith said Sunday that May should demand new conditions from the EU. He said the deal as it stands "has ceded too much control" to Brussels.

May insists her deal delivers on the things that matter most to pro-Brexit voters — control of budgets, immigration policy and laws — while retaining close ties to the U.K.'s European neighbors.

And EU leaders warned that Britain could not hope to get a better offer.

"This is the deal, it's the best possible and the European Union won't change its fundamental position when it comes to this issue," Juncker said.

May plans to spend the next couple of weeks selling it to politicians and the British public before Parliament's vote in December.

French President Emmanuel Macron arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. (Piroschka van de Wouw, Pool Photo via AP)

In a "letter to the nation" released Sunday, May said she would be "campaigning with my heart and soul to win that vote and to deliver this Brexit deal, for the good of our United Kingdom and all of our people."

"It will be a deal that is in our national interest – one that works for our whole country and all of our people, whether you voted 'Leave' or 'Remain,'" she said.

She said Britain's departure from the EU "must mark the point when we put aside the labels of 'Leave' and 'Remain' for good and we come together again as one people."

"To do that we need to get on with Brexit now by getting behind this deal."

In a bittersweet landmark, European Union leaders on Sunday approved an agreement on Britain’s departure next year — the first time a member country will have left the 28-nation bloc.