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Theresa May losing control over Brexit endgame in war with Parliament

Stunning defeats by MPs threaten her government and could change the course of Brexit

Demonstrators for and against Brexit protesting opposite the Houses of Parliament in London on Dec 5.

Few officials in Mrs May's (above) government believe they have much chance of winning the vote for her Brexit deal on Dec 11.


UK Prime Minister Theresa May is locked in a power struggle with the British Parliament that looks set to determine the final shape of Brexit.

Mrs May lost three key votes on a day of drama in the House of Commons on Tuesday, highlighting the weakness of her position as she tries to ratify the deal she's struck with the European Union.

The result is that Parliament now has the potential to decide on Britain's "Plan B" if - as expected - it rejects Mrs May's divorce agreement with the EU in the biggest vote of all next week.

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It raises the possibility that members of Parliament could seek to pursue a softer withdrawal - including potentially staying in the bloc's single market - or even attempt to stop Brexit entirely. One option that could gather momentum over the weeks ahead is for a second referendum to allow the public to overturn the decision of the first.

"No longer must the will of Parliament - reflecting the will of the people - be diminished," Tory lawmaker Dominic Grieve said after engineering one of Mrs May's defeats on Tuesday. "Parliament must now take back control and then give the final decision back to the public because, in the end, only the people can sort this out." But according to Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom, the crucial vote didn't rule out a no-deal Brexit.

"It basically says Parliament, where we know there is no majority for one outcome or another, will have more say over this," she told BBC Radio on Wednesday.

On Dec 11, Parliament will vote finally on whether to accept or reject the 585-page withdrawal agreement that Mrs May and the EU reached in November. Few officials in Mrs May's government believe they have much chance of winning, with some Tories predicting a heavy defeat.

If they're right, the UK will be on course to crash out of the EU with no deal, an outcome which the Bank of England and the Treasury warned last week would cause immediate and severe damage to the British economy. According to the BOE analysis, house prices could be hit by 30 per cent and the pound could fall by as much as 25 per cent after a no-deal Brexit.

The signs are not good for Mrs May's plan. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the official opposition, which he leads, will oppose her deal next week. Critics from all sides of the House lined up to raise objections to the deal.

One of those was former Conservative Chief Whip Mark Harper, who said he would end 13 years of loyalty to the government and vote against the deal. He urged Mrs May to go back to Brussels before the vote next week and try to change the text on the Northern Irish backstop in order to appease Brexiteers.

"If the Prime Minister listened to the views of Conservative colleagues, she would know that her deal isn't going to be voted through next week and it needs to be changed," he told BBC Radio on Wednesday.

Even Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which has a formal role propping up Mrs May's minority Tory government, isn't backing her.

Mrs May lost two House of Commons votes forcing her to publish secret government legal advice on her Brexit deal. After being found in contempt of Parliament - an unprecedented charge against a government - Mrs May had the legal file published on Wednesday. The six-page document focuses on a legal guarantee in the Brexit deal to keep the Irish border open by giving Northern Ireland a different economic status from mainland Britain.The so-called backstop would also leave Britain as a whole in an effective customs union with the EU to keep the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland free-flowing. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox told ministers that the arrangement means Britain could stay in "indefinitely" if no other solution is found.

The premier also lost a third big vote that could prove even more significant: it gives Parliament the power to shape the final Brexit settlement if, as expected, Mrs May fails to get her deal approved in the Dec 11 vote.

It was Commons Speaker John Bercowhad who made the ruling to allow Tuesday's damaging votes to take place.

With Mrs May's defeats on Tuesday, it would be the Speaker again who would decide how Parliament can shape the Plan B if the premier fails to get her overall Brexit deal through the Commons next week. BLOOMBERG, AFP