Brexit: British Government Found In Contempt For First Time Ever

Prime Minister Theresa May suffered embarrassing blows on Tuesday at the start of five days of debate over her plans to leave the European Union that could determine the future of Brexit and the fate of her government.

May wants to secure parliament’s approval for her deal to keep close ties with the EU after leaving in March, but opposition is fierce, with Brexit supporters and opponents alike wanting if not to derail, then to thwart her plan.

That opposition was writ large at the beginning of the debate, before the main vote on December 11, when her government was found in contempt of parliament and then a group of her own Conservative Party MPs won a challenge to hand more power to the House of Commons if her deal is voted down.

That could reduce the risk of Britain leaving the EU without any deal, prompting sterling to recover some of its losses after the vote on contempt drove it down to levels not seen since June last year.

May's leadership looks uncertain. Image: Getty Images.

The debates and final vote on December 11 are crucial in determining how, and possibly even if, Britain leaves the EU as planned on March 29, in the country’s biggest shift in foreign and trade policy in more than 40 years.

Her plans are vulnerable to more change over the days of debate, and advice from a senior EU legal aide that Britain had the right to withdraw its Brexit notice opened yet another front in May’s battle to win the approval of parliament.

So far, May is standing firm.

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“We need to deliver a Brexit that respects the decision of the British people,” she told MPs after suffering the defeats. “This argument has gone on long enough. It is corrosive to our politics and life depends on compromise.”

If MPs do not back her deal, May says, they could open the door either to Britain falling out of the EU without measures to soften the transition, or to the possibility that Brexit does not happen.

Theresa May has fought for her minister's support. Image. Getty Images.

Anxious to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit, a group of mainly pro-EU MPs from May’s Conservative Party won a vote to make sure parliament gets more power to dictate any next steps the government takes if her exit plan fails.

For them, there may be another way out. The formal advice from a European Court of Justice advocate general -- not binding but usually heeded by the court -- suggested to some MPs that revoking the “Article 50” divorce notice was an option.

“It’s a false choice to say it’s the PM’s deal or chaos,” said Conservative lawmaker Sam Gyimah, who quit as a minister on Friday over May’s deal.

“We should look at all the options and not be boxed in by our own red lines.”

But May’s spokesman told reporters: “It does nothing in any event to change the clear position of the government that Article 50 is not going to be revoked.”

Featured Image: Getty Images.