Prime Minister Theresa May began a day of meetings with foreign
leaders aimed at strengthening the U.K.’s future trade ties as
domestic opposition to her Brexit deal mounted.
May met early on Saturday with Australian Prime Minister Scott
Morrison and Japan’s Shinzo Abe at the Group of 20 summit in
Buenos Aires. Both offered their support for the agreement she
reached with the European Union on Sunday, setting the terms
for Britain’s departure from the bloc, and praised her
leadership. She’s due to meet later with her counterparts from
Chile, Canada and Turkey.
Back in Britain, the premier was hit by the resignation of
Science Minister Sam Gyimah, who slammed her Brexit deal in a
lengthy Facebook post, while Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright
appeared to go off-message, suggesting that if Parliament
rejects May’s agreement with the EU, it could lead to a second
referendum. That’s something May has said won’t happen on her
watch. Wright told BBC radio on Saturday that people rejecting
May’s deal should compare it to the alternatives, and not an
“idealized” vision of Brexit.
The alternatives “don’t look attractive,” he said. “They are
essentially either we leave with no deal which would have
serious economic consequences, or we say to the British public:
‘I’m sorry you got it wrong, you’re going to have to do it
again,’ which I think would have serious democratic
U.K. lawmakers are set to vote on May’s Brexit package on Dec.
11, and all the signs are she’s heading for a large defeat. All
opposition parties say they’ll oppose it, as do her allies in
Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, and about 100
members of her own Conservatives.
Brexit-supporting Tories have been the most vociferous
antagonists of the deal, which they say would turn Britain into
a “vassal” state of the EU. Gyimah — the 22nd ministerial
resignation since last year’s election — swells the growing
ranks of pro-European Conservatives voicing displeasure, with
many calling for a second referendum, or People’s Vote to
resolve the issue.
“We shouldn’t dismiss out of hand the idea of asking the people
again what future they want, as we all now have a better
understanding of the potential paths before us,” Gyimah wrote.
Under May’s deal, Britain has “surrendered our voice, our vote
and our veto.”
May herself has stuck rigidly to the line that she can win the
parliamentary vote, and refused to tell reporters traveling
with her to Buenos Aires whether she had a plan B. She’s
counting on the support of foreign leaders to buttress her
case, with a message that rejection of the deal would put
voters’ jobs at risk.
Both Abe and Morrison paid tribute to May’s leadership and
expressed optimism about future trade ties. The Japanese leader
issued an appeal for May “to avoid no deal as well as to ensure
transparency, predictability as well as legal stability in the
On Friday, May held a controversial meeting with Saudi Crown
Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who’s under fire over the kingdom’s
killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi. It was the sole bilateral
meeting that May’s office didn’t invite the U.K. press to, only
offering reporters a single official photo of a stony-faced May
sitting a short distance from the prince. The damage-limitation
effort was thwarted by the Saudis, who invited a camera crew in
to film the two shaking hands.