Pro-Brexit protesters take part in a demonstration in central London on January 12, 2019. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP
Pro-Brexit protesters take part in a demonstration in central London on January 12, 2019. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

Front page sums up nation’s mood

Britain's ugly Brexit debate has taken a dangerous turn with police increasing protection around MPs ahead of a tumultuous week that could alter the country for decades to come.

Officers from police forces on several electorates have quietly stepped up patrols while specific MPs have been warned to take extra care as they are targeted by far-right protesters who want to see Britain leave the European Union in a "hard Brexit" that would sever most ties with the bloc.

The warnings come ahead of a crucial week for the nation and Prime Minister Theresa May.

But tabloid the Daily Star summed up the feelings of many British people with its treatment of the Brexit issue.

 

The Daily Star front page on Friday and how it covered Brexit.
The Daily Star front page on Friday and how it covered Brexit.

If you missed the Star's coverage of Brexit, you're not alone.

While most of the attention went to an "exclusive" with The Rock calling millenials "snowflakes" (which the Hollywood star later said was completely made up) is a very small pointer on Brexit.

 

Brexit Update: It’s still boring.
Brexit Update: It’s still boring.

The police warnings come after Remainer MPs, such as the high-profile Anna Soubry, were harassed and heckled by far-right figures who shouted obscenities including, "You're doing the work of Adolf Hitler … you morally repugnant scumbag."

The Times reported it had seen closed social media chats where pro-Brexit figures boast about singling out MPs to "get them out of office", while politicians, staff and journalists have been harassed in the parliamentary precinct.

One protest leader was arrested yesterday while a Met Police spokesman told news.com.au they would not discuss what steps they were taking to keep MPs safe.

So far the protests have been uncomfortable but not violent - but they have brought back memories of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016. A security source told News Corp this weekend the escalation of tension added to a "febrile atmosphere of absolute hostility and division".

Demonstrators from pro and anti-Brexit camps clash during a protest in Trafalgar Square on Saturday in London. Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Demonstrators from pro and anti-Brexit camps clash during a protest in Trafalgar Square on Saturday in London. Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

 

Remainer MP Anna Soubry, centre, with pro-Brexit protesters. Picture: AP/Alastair Grant
Remainer MP Anna Soubry, centre, with pro-Brexit protesters. Picture: AP/Alastair Grant

"It does make you alarmed, that figures like (Ms Cox's killer) could be watching this stuff online and decide to do something."

Authorities at the Houses of Parliament (officially the Palace of Westminster) have warned of more protests this week.

"When travelling to and from the palace you may wish to take the most discreet route available. If a route does not feel safe, don't take it," the advice read.

Pro-Brexit supporters marched in central London on Saturday in yellow vests, demanding that Britain leaves the EU. Some blocked traffic and burned EU flags.

One told news.com.au: "All we heard at the start was 'Brexit means Brexit' and now they're all doing what they can to make it not happen."

Another believed the parliamentary paralysis surrounding the government's Brexit plans would thwart it happening at all.

"They need to know the people won't accept Brexit not happening. We had a referendum and we want to leave."

CRUNCH VOTE

British Prime Minister Theresa May is scheduled to have her much-criticised deal voted on by the House of Commons on Tuesday evening (local time). It is widely expected to be defeated, perhaps by more than 200 votes.

Such a devastating rejection would again put her position in jeopardy, although she cannot be removed by the party for 12 months after she won a leadership confidence vote last month.

However, ministers could force her hand and tell her she must go, and several senior government figures have been jockeying for public attention in recent days by making special policy announcements to steal the limelight - moves that have been slapped down by Number 10.

Ms May's authority - which is already shredded - is at risk of being derailed further after a series of complicated amendments and rulings last week meant she must return to the Commons three days after the vote is lost and present an alternative plan.

A series of amendments will be voted on before the crunch Brexit vote on Tuesday which could also mean it is killed off and a "no" deal, where Britain would leave without a withdrawal agreement or transition phase, would not happen.

Other amendments will seek to reshape the deal.

Other MPs have indicated they will back the deal to avoid a no deal scenario, as it was still the only alternative to a no deal, despite criticism.

WHAT IF THE DEAL IS REJECTED?

It's likely there will be a vote of no confidence in the government. It would probably fail as a minor party, the DUP, which supports Ms May's minority government has said it would not support the move.

Once the vote was won by the government though it could allow the Labour opposition to drop their demand for a general election and switch their focus to holding a second referendum.

The government is basically offering up the same deal as what was proposed and aborted in December - but it doesn't appear to have won over rebels from within the government or the opposition.

That means it will need to come up with a Plan B very quickly. Time to get a deal approved is now so tight there is increasing speculation that even if a deal is agreed to, there won't be time for the passage of accompanying law changes required to make Brexit happen.

Ms May has said repeatedly she would not delay Brexit and the country would leave the EU on March 29. But she may have no choice.

Last month the parliament won the right to have more say over Brexit which means a series of votes could be held in which different scenarios are tested. That would include a second referendum and different types of Brexit, from a hard exit with no deal, to a similar soft Brexit deal that Norway has.

But these votes would not be binding on the government and would probably only demonstrate how divided the parliament is.

Pro-Europe demonstrators outside the Houses of Parliament. Police have warned of more protests this week. Picture: AP/Matt Dunham
Pro-Europe demonstrators outside the Houses of Parliament. Police have warned of more protests this week. Picture: AP/Matt Dunham

Ms May could just bring her deal back before the Commons repeatedly right up until departure day which would mean MPs would have to either back it or allow the no deal scenario they are bitterly opposed to become reality.

If they don't go down that path, they will need a major renegotiation which would almost certainly mean Brexit day would be delayed. Even that is fraught with difficulty because all 27 other EU nations would have to agree.

A drastic move could be to call a snap election - something that didn't end well for Ms May in 2017. That would require the support of Labour to overcome the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, although given the fact they want an election, it would unlikely be a problem.

Just as dramatic would be another referendum. This is something the Prime Minister has consistently been opposed to as she has said it would undermine voters' faith in the political system. But that would take months, and again, would need Brexit delayed beyond March.

Ms May could always decide to resign if she has not had her deal approved and she is not prepared to change course.

This would be out of character for her though, and would just pass on the same problems to any new PM.

'A VERY BRITISH COUP'

Finally, as if Ms May and her cabinet didn't have enough to worry about, details have emerged of a plot within her party to try to seize control of Brexit and effectively sideline them.

"A very British coup" was the front page banner headline in The Sunday Times yesterday which detailed the extraordinary moves being considered by UK politicians.

 

The Sunday Times front page.
The Sunday Times front page.

 

The report said MPs were planning to change parliamentary rules to allow motions proposed by backbenchers to take precedence over government business - something that would undo centuries-old traditions.

If the bombshell move was to happen, Brexit could be delayed and even the referendum result overturned.

That could lead to a constitutional crisis because it would mean the government has lost control.

A memo to Ms May obtained by The Sunday Times read: "Such an attempt represents a clear and present danger to all government business … Without control of the order paper, the government has no control over the House of Commons … the government would lose the ability to govern."


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