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Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Facing opposition, Britain's May will bring Brexit deal back to parliament

Reuters , Monday 17 Dec 2018
Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May (File Photo: Reuters)
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Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday she would bring her Brexit deal back to parliament for a vote in mid-January, pledging to get assurances from the European Union to break the deadlock over Britain's departure from the bloc.

With just over 100 days until Britain is due to leave the bloc on March 29, May faced accusations from some lawmakers of trying to force a deeply divided parliament into backing her deal by running the clock down to exit day.

So near to the departure date, a mid-January vote could pile pressure on lawmakers by confronting them with the choice of her deal or leaving without one, a nightmare scenario for business.

The British leader is pressing on with her deal to leave the EU, rejecting calls for a second referendum or to test support for different Brexit options in parliament, despite hardening opposition to the agreement to maintain close ties.

May said parliament would debate the deal in January, before a vote in the week beginning Jan. 14 - more than a month after an original Dec. 11 vote which May cancelled after admitting she faced a significant defeat.

After a tumultuous week in which she survived a confidence vote and sought last-minute changes to a Brexit agreement reached with Brussels last month, May said again that the choice was her deal, leaving without an agreement or no Brexit at all.

"I know this is not everyone’s perfect deal. It is a compromise. But if we let the perfect be the enemy of the good then we risk leaving the EU with no deal," she told lawmakers, her speech punctuated by loud shouts of protest.

"Avoiding no deal is only possible if we can reach an agreement or if we abandon Brexit entirely."

She said the EU had offered "further clarification" on the most contentious aspects of her divorce deal, or withdrawal agreement, and that her government was exploring getting "further political and legal assurances".

But with the EU offering little in the way of concessions to win over lawmakers, an increasing number of politicians are calling for a second referendum - something some of her ministers say could be avoided if the government tested Brexit scenarios in parliamentary votes.

"What is irresponsible is delaying a vote on her agreement, not because she is going to get any changes to it but because she wants to run down the clock and try and intimidate MPs (Members of Parliament) into supporting it to avoid no deal," opposition Labour lawmaker Liz Kendall said in parliament.

Divisions

Parliament is deeply divided, with factions pressing for different options for future ties, exiting without a deal or remaining in the EU.

May and her ministers have repeatedly ruled out a replay of the referendum, saying it would deepen rifts and betray voters who backed Brexit by 52 percent to 48 percent in 2016.

That increases the risk of Britain leaving without a deal, a scenario some businesses fear would be catastrophic for the world's fifth largest economy.

The political and economic uncertainty over Brexit is having an impact, with data on Monday showing a drop in consumer spending, falling house prices and growing pessimism in household finances.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said May was the architect of a constitutional crisis, "leading the most shambolic and chaotic government in modern British history."

Just before May's statement, Labour, which has been under pressure to push for a vote of no confidence in the government, threatened to call for a symbolic vote of confidence in May if she failed to name a date for the vote in parliament.

While Labour said they had forced her into doing so, critics said the move was simply political theatre.

Several members of May's cabinet team, including Education Minister Damian Hinds, said at the weekend they were open to putting the range of options to parliament to gauge whether there was a majority for any of them.

Asked if he would rule out a so-called indicative vote, May's spokesman said "There are no plans to hold one."

The prime minister used her statement in parliament on Monday to reject the idea of a second referendum and to again set out that her agreement to keep close economic ties with the EU after Brexit is the only one on offer.

"Let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum," May said.

"Another vote which would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy, that our democracy does not deliver. Another vote which would likely leave us no further forward than the last."

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