LONDON: The British parliament was due to vote on Thursday on seeking a last-minute Brexit delay, while Prime Minister Theresa May piled renewed pressure on reluctant lawmakers to back her EU divorce deal at the third time of asking.
Two weeks before Britain is due to leave the European Union, May is using the threat of a long extension to the Brexit deadline to push euroskeptic rebels in her Conservative Party to finally back her deal. That vote could come next week.
May’s authority hit an all-time low this week after a series of parliamentary defeats and rebellions, but finance minister Philip Hammond said her plan was back on the agenda.
That plan, struck by May after two-and-a-half years of negotiations with the EU, was defeated heavily in parliament in January and again on Tuesday.
“Quite a number of colleagues changed their mind on this issue between the January vote and the vote earlier this week,” Hammond told Sky News.
“It’s clear that the House of Commons has to find a consensus around something, and if it isn’t the prime minister’s deal I think it is likely to be something which is much less to the taste of those on the hard Brexit wing of my party.”
Although parliament on Wednesday voted against the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, the default position if nothing else is agreed remains that Britain will exit without a transition arrangement on March 29, a scenario business leaders warn would bring chaos to markets and supply chains. Brexit supporters say in the longer term it would allow Britain to thrive and forge trade deals across the world.
May will put her deal to another vote if the circumstances are right, her spokesman said.
“If it was felt that it were worthwhile to bring back a new vote, then that’s what we would do. But that’s a decision we would have to judge on circumstances at the time,” he said.
“I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it,” European Council President Donald Tusk said, referring to EU leaders who will meet May next Thursday and must agree to any extension.
But there was no sign the prospect of a long delay – which could lead to Britain having closer ties to the EU than planned by May or even a second Brexit referendum – was causing a major shift in the views of pro-Brexit lawmakers who have so far thwarted May.
Andrew Bridgen, a euroskeptic from May’s Conservative Party accused her of pursuing a “scorched earth” policy of destroying all other Brexit options to leave lawmakers with a choice between her deal and a delay of a year or more.
Another euroskeptic Conservative lawmaker said he would not vote for her deal, even if there was a risk of a long Brexit delay. “If it’s a rancid deal, why vote for it?” Mark Francois told BBC television.—Reuters