Why has Theresa May’s ‘bold’ Brexit offer been received so badly?

In a last-chance throw of the political dice, Theresa May has insisted she has compromised on Brexit and it is now time for others to do the same.

But the Prime Minister’s self-styled “bold” offer has drawn widespread attack.

Theresa May during Prime Minister’s Questions
Theresa May during Prime Minister’s Questions (House of Commons/PA)

– What has the Prime Minister promised?

After a torrid Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Mrs May said the Government would move on a number of key issues when the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) is published on Friday.

Areas where the Prime Minister says she has made concessions include Northern Irish backstop proposals, workers’ rights, Parliamentary scrutiny of future EU negotiations, and giving MPs the chance to vote for a second referendum.

– How has it been received?

Badly. The move has drawn derision and anger from across the political spectrum with Remain backers insisting she has not gone far enough and Brexiteers saying she has offered too much ground.

– Key concessions from the PM:

– Giving MPs a say on having a second referendum

The referendum stance has cut little ice with pro-Remain opposition MPs who could table an amendment calling for such a vote without the PM’s approval anyway.

Brexiteers are incensed she has given any traction to the idea of a new nationwide poll on EU withdrawal, with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson saying he will not vote for Mrs May’s withdrawal deal as it goes against the last Conservative manifesto.

Mrs May hoped allowing the Commons to set broad terms for future negotiations with the EU, and seeking parliamentary approval for deals with Brussels would reassure MPs that they would have a say over any treaty drawn-up by her successor as PM.

But this was widely expected to be part of the Brexit settlement on offer, so has not had much impact.

– Customs union

MPs will be given the chance to vote for a full, but temporary, customs union with the EU.

Opposition MPs and some Tory pro-Europeans have dismissed the idea of a temporary arrangement as not going far enough.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the transition period and Northern Ireland backstop proposals would keep the UK in an effective customs union anyway.

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn said the UK would be kept in an effective customs union (David Mirzoeff/PA)

– A new Workers’ Rights Bill

The PM said it would ensure that employment rights remain at least level with those in the EU.

Labour MPs and trade unions have greeted the move with scepticism.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA transport union, said there were “no real guarantees on jobs, workers’ rights or future customs arrangements”.

– Environmental protection

Mrs May has said that environmental protection standards will not deteriorate when the UK leaves the EU.

But plans for a watchdog Office of Environmental Protection have already been criticised by MPs from across the Commons who say the body does not have enough powers or independence.

– Northern Ireland

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and hardcore Tory Brexiteers have not been won over by Mrs May’s talk of giving a legal commitment to avoid the need for a border backstop.

The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland
The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in Co Cavan (Brian Lawless/PA)

At present, the highly contentious backstop would see the UK obey many EU customs obligations if no wider trade deal is struck by the end of the transition phase in December 2020.

The PM says the Government will find an alternative, but it would need the EU to agree for a change to happen.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: “The fundamental flaws of the draft Withdrawal Agreement treaty itself remain unchanged.”

Mrs May has also offered to give Stormont a veto on any new EU regulations that would apply in Northern Ireland but not Britain, but the powersharing assembly in Belfast has been suspended for more than two years with little sign of change.

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