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Desperate for votes, Theresa May angers MPs in Brexit blame-game

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP London, UK Mar 21, 2019, 04.10 PM (IST)

Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday faced a backlash after blaming lawmakers for the Brexit chaos gripping Britain -- the very people she hopes will finally approve her withdrawal deal.

May made a rare address to the public on Wednesday, putting the onus on MPs to break the deadlock with just eight days to go until Britain is officially due to leave the European Union.

"You the public have had enough. You're tired of the infighting. You're tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows," she said.

"Tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit. You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side. It is now time for MPs to decide," she added.

May is in Brussels on Thursday to ask for a short extension to the March 29 deadline, with a third vote on her unpopular deal expected in parliament next week.

She lost the two previous votes by majorities of 230 and 149, but did little to win over MPs by portraying them as being against the public.

"Her speech was incendiary and irresponsible," said Labour MP Wes Streeting.

"If any harm comes to any of us, she will have to accept her share of responsibility."

Labour colleague Lisa Nandy, a Brexit supporter who has previously suggested she was open to May's deal, called the comments "dangerous and reckless".

'I could have wept'

Pro-EU backbencher Dominic Grieve led the Conservative backlash, criticising a similar speech made by May in the House of Commons earlier in the day.

The former attorney general is one of those the premier is trying to win over to vote for her deal, but said he had "never felt more ashamed to be a member of the Conservative party, or to lend her my support."

"When the prime minister came to despatch box today... I confessed I think it was the worst moment I have experienced since I came into the House of Commons," he said.

"She spent most of her time castigating the House for its misconduct and at no stage did she pause to consider whether it is in fact the way she is leading this government which might be contributing to this situation.

"I have to say I could have wept."

Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King's College London, told BBC Radio London that it was "strange" for May to court MPs by "abusing them".

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt defended his leader, telling BBC Radio 4 on Thursday that "no prime minister in recent years has been tested in the way that she has."

"Let's not forget the extraordinary pressure she is personally under," he said.

'Brexit paralysis'

May has not ruled out any outcome, including leaving with no deal and also cancelling Brexit altogether, apparently in the hope that hardliners on both sides will drop their opposition in order to prevent their worst-case-scenarios from being realised.

But MPs and cabinet members have instead capitalised on May's weakness, with government ministers on both sides threatening mass resignations.

Some pro-EU ministers have said they would quit if she proceeded with plans to leave without a deal, forcing May to hold a symbolic parliamentary vote on ruling it out.

Brexit-backing ministers this week threatened to walk out if she asked the EU for a long delay to the Brexit deadline, forcing her to limit her request to Brussels for an extension until June 30.

Conservative MP Nigel Evans said that if May couldn't deliver Brexit on time "she has to go", suggesting that MPs were hardening against May ahead of the possible vote.

But ministers loyal to the prime minister remained confident that May could still win the day, despite her personal unpopularity.

"Right now the choice is, do we resolve this or do we have Brexit paralysis?" Foreign Secretary Hunt told the BBC. 

"I think it's entirely possible when people look at the choices... people will say actually what the country wants is to get on with it."

Story highlights

Theresa May made a rare address to the public on Wednesday, putting the onus on MPs to break the deadlock with just eight days to go until Britain is officially due to leave the European Union.