Brexit or Regrexit? UK PM May under fire as "no deal" looms in EU breakaway talks

Europe this weekend marked Armistice Day when the guns fell silent in 1918 at the end of the First World War – as Theresa May, prime minister of the UK which narrowly voted to break away from the EU, faced a growing barrage of political flak over Brexit.

Mrs May is fighting to keep her compromise-tending Brexit plans on track while Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – which in 2017 agreed to give qualified support to May’s minority government – threatens to join Conservative hardline-Brexiteers against her.

And there is also talk of a rebellion of her party’s “Remain” wing. There are rumours that four more pro-Europe ministers are on the verge of resigning after the departure of transport minister Jo Johnson, who quit on Friday calling for a second referendum.

UK national newspapers on Sunday claimed Mrs May was becoming more beleaguered with the Sunday Times reporting that the EU had rejected her latest proposals and quoted a Whitehall source as saying the government’s “life support machine” had been turned off by the EU.

Meantime, Emily Thornberry, the Labour opposition party’s shadow foreign secretary, said Mrs May cannot expect the Labour Party to save her if there is a parliamentary vote on any Brexit deal.

Ms Thornberry told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “We need an injection of democracy and we want a meaningful vote. If (Theresa May) can’t come up with a decent suggestion then we should have a general election.

“If we don’t have a general election then all the options are on the table and we will campaign for there to be a people’s vote.

“There are some deeply anti-democratic forces out there. We are running out of time.

“What we’ve said is that (Theresa May) cannot simply come to the House of Commons with a bit of nonsense, you cannot expect the Labour Party to save you from your own backbenchers.

“(If) she comes to Parliament with a deal, maybe, and tries to put it before Parliament, her backbenchers say they can’t possibly vote for it – and the Labour Party has to save Theresa May? We want to save the country.

“We have always said that we must have sufficient time to go back and negotiate properly. She sits there pushing ahead with some deal she knows is not going to get through the House of Commons.

“First stage is we demand a general election and if we don’t get a general election, then what we have said is all options remain on the table. If she brings back a deal which means we are in a customs union and in a free market agreement with the EU it may well be she will get sufficient support.”

Amid the turmoil in the political arena and the media – where many national newspapers have aggressively taken sides – there have also been calls for a new referendum or at least another one on any deal that may be reached before it is formally ratified. Mrs May has ruled out these calls.

But as the politicians wrangle, the fact remains that London and Brussels have not yet reached an agreement on the terms of the UK’s departure to avoid a “no deal” situation – with just five months to go before the UK is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

The consensus view is that a “no deal” scenario would be highly disruptive.

The growing threats also come after a week when a poll for British television broadcaster Channel 4 showed that British voters would now choose to stay in the EU.

Pollster Survation said voters would now back staying in the EU by 54 per cent to 46 per cent – compared with the referendum result in June, 2016, when 51.9 per cent wanted to leave with 48.1 per cent wanting to stay in the EU.

In 2016 “Leave” voters totalled 17.4 million, while 16.1 million voted to remain. The population of the UK is around 66.5 million, and the total electorate is 46.5 million.

The pollster interviewed 20,000 people online between October 20 and November 2, and claimed it was the largest independent poll since the referendum.

An interesting aspect of the poll was a marked change in geographical voting patterns.

In 2016 there was a marked skew between southern UK cosmopolitan centres such as London, Bristol, Cambridge and Oxford, which voted to remain, and more traditional northern industrial heartlands which favoured leaving – although, further north, Scotland voted to remain in.

There was, of course, some geographical variation, but now places such as Birmingham, Nottingham and Sunderland, which all voted in 2016 to leave, are now remainers, along with “southerners” such as Slough and Southampton.

And calls for a new referendum are getting louder.

Former UK prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major have called for one, 700,000 people marched in London last month demanding one and a clutch of new – small but growing – groups and parties have been formed, joining the established Green Party, with “new referendum” as their banner.

Perhaps “Regrexit” may replace “Brexit” as the word of the day.

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