Tuesday 15 October, 2019

UK prime minister fights to save Brexit deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May was battling Monday to stave off a new defeat for her European Union divorce deal, with talks deadlocked 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 it resoundingly rejected in January. There are few signs of any big shift in opinion.

Lawmakers' opposition to the deal centres on of 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.

The bloc is frustrated at what it sees as the inability of Britain's divided government to lay out a clear vision for Brexit — and because it is seeking changes to an agreement that May herself helped negotiate.

"Technical" talks aimed at securing concessions from the EU failed to secure a breakthrough over the weekend, and a rumored trip by May to meet EU leaders in Brussels on Monday looked to have been shelved.

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."

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.  

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