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LONDON, July 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Pro-European Union rebels were threatened with a general election this summer if they defeated Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans on customs, a lawmaker said on Wednesday, threatening to widen rifts in the PM’s party.

Conservative whips, who enforce discipline in the party, threatened to call a confidence vote that could bring down the government before a crucial vote on Tuesday on customs, one lawmaker told Reuters. Rebel lawmaker Anna Soubry told BBC radio that the prospect of a national election was also raised.

“It was an appalling spectacle,” Soubry told BBC Radio 4, adding she had told a senior whip to “bring it on”.

“These nonsenses of threatening general elections, and votes of confidence in the prime minister ... bring it on, because I shall be the first in the queue to give my vote of full confidence in the prime minister,” Soubry said. “Problem is, I don’t think she’s in charge any more.”

Conservative lawmakers fear an election, and the possible victory of veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn. Earlier this month, his Labour Party took a lead in the polls.

Labour also says the June 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union must be respected but has attacked the PM over the splits in her party.

In one of the most tumultuous periods in recent British political history, there have been four major votes in the past four years: the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, the 2015 UK election, the Brexit referendum of 2016 and the snap election called by May last year.

May narrowly avoided a defeat in parliament at the hands of the pro-EU lawmakers from her own party in Tuesday’s vote, helped by four opposition Labour lawmakers who went against their party to support the government. Turmoil over Brexit plans has hit the pound.

Parliament voted 307 to 301 against an amendment to trade legislation that would have required the government to try to negotiate a customs union arrangement with the EU if, by Jan. 21, 2019, it had failed to negotiate a frictionless free trade deal with the bloc.

On Monday, May infuriated Conservative lawmakers who want to keep the closest possible ties with the EU when she decided to accept a number of demands by hardline pro-Brexit MPs from her party.

That came after she had fought hard to get the agreement of cabinet ministers at her Chequers country residence earlier this month for her vision of Brexit. The cabinet deal was then undermined by the resignations of Brexit minister David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

LONDON, July 17, 2018 (News Wires) - The official group campaigning for Britain's exit from the European Union at the 2016 EU referendum has been fined and referred to police for breaking electoral law.

Britain's Electoral Commission said the "Vote Leave" group, backed by senior politicians including former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, failed to declare 675,000 pounds ($894,000) it spent with data firm Aggregate IQ.

The undeclared spending meant the campaign group exceeded legal spending limits by almost 500,000 pounds.

The commission said Tuesday it found significant evidence that Vote Leave did this by funneling cash to non-registered youth campaign group BeLeave.

It added that Vote Leave gave an inaccurate spending report. The group has been fined 61,000 pounds.

 

LONDON, July 17, 2018 (News Wires) - Britain's officially designated Brexit campaign group, Vote Leave, was fined 61,000 pounds ($81,000) on Tuesday for breaching spending rules in the 2016 referendum and referred to the police by the Electoral Commission.

The move by the commission, which said serious breaches of the law had been committed by Vote Leave, added to calls from opponents of Brexit for a re-run of the referendum on European Union membership, though Prime Minister Theresa May has
repeatedly ruled out another vote.

Two years since voting 52-48 to leave the bloc, the United Kingdom, its political and business leaders remain deeply divided over the country's plans for departing from the EU on March 29, 2019.

The commission said Vote Leave, which was fronted by leading Brexiteers such as former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and environment minister Michael Gove, used an allied group to pay Aggregate IQ, a company which used social media data to target voters, and thus exceeded spending.

"We found substantial evidence that the two groups worked to a common plan, did not declare their joint working and did not adhere to the legal spending limits," Bob Posner, the commission's director of political finance and regulation.

Brexit campaigners say they are fighting an attempt by the British establishment to thwart the process of leaving the EU and have repeatedly dismissed as nonsense claims by opponents that they cheated, lied and even colluded with Russia to win.

Vote Leave said the Electoral Commision had made false accusations, failed to interview anybody from the group and had not followed due process.

"All this suggests that the supposedly impartial Commission is motivated by a political agenda rather than uncovering the facts," a Vote Leave spokesman. The commission has "has based its conclusions on unfounded claims and conspiracy theories."

Overall, Vote Leave was found to have exceeded the statutory spending limit of seven million pounds by 449,079 pounds by working with BeLeave, which spent 675,000 pounds with Aggregate IQ under a common plan with Vote Leave.

The commission said Vote Leave should have declared its joint spending and added that its spending return was inaccurate in respect of 43 items of spending totalling 236,501 pounds.

David Halsall, the responsible person for Vote Leave, and Darren Grimes, the founder of the BeLeave campaign group, were referred to the police for false declarations of campaign spending.

Vote Leave resisted the investigation from the start and had refused to cooperate, the commission said.

 

LONDON, July 17, 2018 (News Wires) - British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a battle over trade in parliament on Tuesday, with pro-EU lawmakers hoping to influence her plans to leave the European Union a day after she bowed to demands from Brexit campaigners.

May's vulnerability in parliament, where she lost her Conservative Party's majority in an ill-judged election last year, was laid bare on Monday, when her decision to accept the demands of pro-Brexit lawmakers stirred a rebellion among those who want to keep the closest possible ties in the EU.

On two of Monday's votes her majority was cut to three, suggesting that the leader will struggle to get Brexit legislation through a deeply divided parliament, which could possibly threaten the approval of any Brexit deal with the EU.

May has vowed to stick to her plan to negotiate the closest possible trade ties with the EU, saying her strategy is the only one that can meet the government's aims for Brexit, the biggest shift in Britain's foreign and trade policy for decades.

But it has pleased very few, deepening those divisions in her Conservative Party that have so far hampered progress in talks with the EU, and triggering a bitter war of words between its Brexit-supporting and pro-EU factions.

"We can't please everybody. We have to have a compromise position that enables the country to get an agreement with the European Union," trade minister Liam Fox told BBC radio.

"It's up now to the EU 27 to determine what sort of relationship they have with us."

Tuesday's vote will be on the trade bill, which is focused on converting trade deals between the EU and third countries into bilateral deals with Britain. It is a technical bill and was not originally intended to define new trade policy.

Pro-EU lawmakers have tabled a change to the wording of the bill to try to force the government to pursue a customs union with the EU if ministers fail to agree an agreement which establishes "a frictionless free trade area for goods".

Parliament will also vote on a government attempt to bring forward its summer break to Thursday from next week, which the government says is logical because there is very little parliamentary business in the remaining days.

 

LONDON, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - A former UK Cabinet minister from the ruling Conservative Party on Monday called for a new Brexit referendum, an idea long assailed by the prime minister.

Former Education Secretary Justine Greening told the BBC that Parliament is "gridlocked" over Britain's exit from the European Union. She said that she and other senior Tory lawmakers favor a new vote.

Greening said that she would campaign to keep Britain in the EU if a new referendum is held.

There is mounting pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May coming from both sides of the Brexit debate. Her recent "white paper" outlining plans for a "common rule book" with the EU over trade in goods has infuriated those who favor a complete break.

May defended her plan as she opened the Farnborough International Airshow. She said it would safeguard vital jobs in the aviation industry and keep Britain's tradition as a nation in the forefront of the aviation industry.

The issue is sensitive because Airbus signaled in June that it would have to consider its long-term plans for Britain if there is no Brexit deal.

May said the plan outlined in the white paper honors the wishes of British voters - who in June 2016 backed Brexit with 52 percent of the vote - while protecting industry and security.

Her office has said there will be no second referendum under any conditions. Her authority has been weakened with the resignations of major figures Boris Johnson and David Davis and a series of lesser officials who disagree with her Brexit plan.

Parliament will debate aspects of the Brexit proposal later Monday, when May will face efforts by hard-line Brexit backers to use a series of amendments to limit her government's ability to set up the customs arrangement she seeks - one that would keep close ties with the EU.

It will be seen as a fresh sign of weakness if she has to compromise again on these plans.

The skirmishes are expected to continue Tuesday when a trade bill is debated.

LONDON, July 15, 2018 (News Wires) -- Prime Minister Theresa May has warned there may be "no Brexit at all" because of lawmakers' attempts to undermine her plan to leave the European Union.

"My message to the country this weekend is simple: we need to keep our eyes on the prize," May wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper. "If we don't, we risk ending up with no Brexit at all."

Earlier this week two senior ministers resigned in protest at May's plans for trade with the EU after Britain leaves the bloc next March. Her blueprint was then criticised in a newspaper interview by US President Donald Trump, a position he backtracked on during a meeting with May on Friday.

May also wrote in the Mail on Sunday article that Britain would take a tough stance in its next round of negotiations with the EU.

"Some people have asked whether our Brexit deal is just a starting point from which we will regress," she said. "Let me be clear. Our Brexit deal is not some long wish-list from which negotiators get to pick and choose. It is a complete plan with a set of outcomes that are non-negotiabl

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