UK prime minister fights to save Brexit deal
British Prime Minister Theresa May refused to admit defeat for her European Union divorce deal Monday, despite deadlocked talks with the bloc a day before Parliament is scheduled to vote on the plan.
The House of Commons is due to vote Tuesday on whether to approve a deal that it resoundingly rejected in January. There are few signs of any big shift in opinion, with British lawmakers still divided over whether to leave the EU, and if so on what terms.
The EU, meanwhile, is frustrated at what it sees as the inability of Britain’s government to lay out a clear vision for Brexit — and because it is seeking changes to an agreement that May herself helped negotiate.
British lawmakers’ opposition to the deal centers on concerns over arrangements for the Irish border. May’s government has been seeking changes, but the EU refuses to reopen the 585-page agreement that it spent a year-and-a-half negotiating.
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Monday that “no further meetings at political level are scheduled,” but that the EU is “open and willing” to hold talks with the U.K. at any time.
“It is now for the House of Commons to take an important set of decisions this week,” Schinas said.
May’s spokesman, James Slack, said “talks are ongoing” at a technical level, and there is “a shared determination by both sides to find a solution.”
The British leader has spoken by phone to eight EU national leaders since Friday, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, without any sign of a breakthrough. A rumored trip by May to meet EU leaders in Brussels on Monday has been shelved for now, though she spoke by phone to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
If Parliament throws out the deal again, lawmakers will vote on whether to leave the EU without an agreement — an idea likely to be rejected — or to ask the EU to delay Brexit beyond the scheduled March 29 departure date.
May warned last week that any delay could mean “we may never leave the EU at all.”
Hard-line Brexit supporters in May’s Conservative Party said she should postpone Tuesday’s vote rather than risk another crushing defeat.
Former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell told the Times of London that “anything that avoids what looks like a massive defeat on Tuesday is worth considering.”
Slack said the vote “will take place tomorrow,” but it was unclear exactly what motion would be put to lawmakers. It is due to be published later Monday.
May has staked her political reputation on securing an exit deal with the EU, and is under mounting pressure to quit if it is defeated again. She survived a bid to oust her through a no-confidence vote in December, so can’t be forced from office for a year.
Conservative lawmaker Nicky Morgan said May’s position will become “less and less tenable” if she suffers more defeats in Parliament this week.
“If the votes go this week in a way which means that the prime minister’s policy as she has set out and stuck to rigidly over the course of the last two-and-a-bit a years is taken away, dismantled slowly by Parliament this week, I think it would be very difficult for the prime minister to stay in office for very much longer,” Morgan told the BBC.