Thu, Feb 28, 2019 - Page 7 News List

May offers MPs option to delay Brexit

COMPROMISE:The British prime minister agreed to allow parliament to vote on extending talks with the EU past the March 29 deadline to avoid a no-deal exit

Bloomberg

Two pro-Brexit protesters wearing EU flag-themed berets and one draped in the EU flag demonstrate opposite the Houses of Parliament in London on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday bought herself more time to secure a Brexit deal, handing business a reprieve from a catastrophic no-deal departure by offering lawmakers a vote to rule one out.

May appeared to have staved off a substantial rebellion by her ministers with the offer, but the cost was a significant climb-down: She promised them votes to take a no-deal departure on March 29 off the table, and to delay Brexit.

“The United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on 29 March if there is explicit consent in this House [of Commons] for that outcome,” May said on Tuesday.

She said that she would continue attempts to reach a deal in Brussels so the UK can leave as planned on March 29.

May’s gamble was designed to hold her fractious government together after a trio of ministers threatened revolt to avert a no-deal Brexit.

However, she is far from out of the woods.

The threat from rank-and-file lawmakers remains, with amendments tabled to yesterday’s motion that would wrest control of the parliamentary timetable — and Brexit strategy — from her.

Moreover, she is still battling to secure legally binding concessions from Brussels that could persuade Conservative euroskeptics to back her deal.

The signs are Brussels would keep her waiting: EU diplomats do not see a breakthrough until March 11, the day before May’s promise to lawmakers of a vote on a new deal.

Even then, it would only be a provisional agreement with the European Commission, with the endorsement of the 27 national governments coming later in the month.

Under May’s plan, if parliament rejects her deal in a vote by March 12, there would be a vote by March 13 on whether to leave the EU with no deal.

And if that is rejected, the House would vote on a short extension to the deadline — probably until the end of June at the latest.

“To avoid a hammer blow to firms and livelihoods, delay cannot simply be an extension of stalemate,” Confederation of British Industry director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said. “Compromise is the only way.”

May’s tactical move looks to have averted mass resignations of pro-EU ministers in her team and prevented the crushing defeat that almost certainly awaited her yesterday.

There is also a chance her gamble could encourage pro-Brexit politicians to get behind her unpopular exit agreement.

With the Labour Party now backing a second referendum, and May opening the door to a delay, the prospect of losing Brexit altogether could convince at least some euroskeptic Conservatives to back her.

Writing in the Daily Mail yesterday, May said her engagement with the EU has “begun to bear fruit” and urged parliament to “do its duty so our country can move forward.”

Veteran Brexit campaigner Iain Duncan Smith said he had no problem with May’s offer.

A delay by two months would not make much difference to the course of Brexit, he said.

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