British PM May seeks more time: promises Brexit deal vote by March 12

 British PM May seeks more time: promises Brexit deal vote by March 12

By Elizabeth Piper

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May promised on Sunday to offer lawmakers a vote on her Brexit deal by March 12 in the latest delay to her attempt to win approval for a plan to ensure Britain's orderly departure from the European Union.

As the United Kingdom's labyrinthine Brexit crisis goes down to the wire, May is making a last-ditch effort to negotiate changes to the divorce package, though lawmakers could try to grab control of Brexit in a series of parliamentary votes on Wednesday.

British parliament voted 432-202 against her deal in January, the worst defeat in modern British history, prompting May to promised to seek changes that would allow lawmakers to ratify the agreement and avoid a potentially disorderly exit.

On her way to Egypt for an EU-Arab League summit, May said further meetings in Brussels on securing changes to the deal ruled out a so-called meaningful vote in parliament this week.

Instead, the new 'high noon' for Brexit, May and the British parliament will be on March 12, only 17 days before Britain is due to leave on March 29.

"We won't bring a meaningful vote to parliament this week but we will ensure that that happens by the 12th of March," May told reporters on board her plane.

"It is still within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on the 29th of March and that is what we are working to do."

In Sharm El-Sheikh, May tried to win the backing of EU leaders to secure the changes and ease increasing frustration in Europe over Britain's political impasse over a deal that was agreed with London in November.

TUSK CALL FOR CLARITY

European Council President Donald Tusk told May that the EU needs clarity that what the bloc might offer would command a majority in the British parliament before before a summit of EU leaders scheduled on March 21-22, an EU official said.

The EU has ruled out reopening the Withdrawal Agreement, though both sides are looking at a possible legal addendum to reassure lawmakers who worry that the Irish border backstop could keep Britain trapped in the EU's orbit for years to come.

"We've had good progress, constructive discussions with the European Union," May said, adding that British negotiators would be back in Brussels on Tuesday.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, however, expressed fatigue with Britain and its Brexit crisis.

"You need two to dance tango, and I know how to dance," Juncker said when asked if he was running out things to give on Brexit. "I have a certain Brexit fatigue."

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he could not accept a post-Brexit border backstop that has a time limit or a unilateral exit clause, ruling out a suggestion from British Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

"We are not playing chicken, we are not playing poker; we are just standing by our position, which has been solid since day one," Varadkar said.

"A backstop that includes a time limit isn't a backstop at all. Nor would a unilateral exit clause work for us."

With the clock ticking down to March 29, Britain is in the deepest political crisis in half a century as it grapples with how, or even whether, to exit the European project it joined in 1973.

Both Britain's major parties fractured last week, losing lawmakers who cast aside their former parties as broken remnants of a political system that was in meltdown.

LABOUR REFERENDUM PUSH?

Some lawmakers will seek to grab control of Brexit in a series of votes in the British parliament on Feb. 27, though such attempts have previously been defeated as May sought more time to get a deal.

Before she set off for Egypt, three members of her cabinet publicly split with government policy and said they would side with rebels and opposition parties to stop a no-deal Brexit.

"We have around the cabinet table a collective, not just responsibility, but desire to actually ensure that we leave the European Union with a deal," May said.

Senior figures in the opposition Labour Party said on Sunday that it was moving closer to supporting another Brexit referendum and could do so as soon as early as this week.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has so far stuck to Labour policy to keep the option of a second referendum "on the table" if May's government fails to secure a deal with Brussels that can break the impasse in parliament.

But when asked whether this would be the week Labour comes out in support of a second referendum, the party's deputy leader, Tom Watson, told BBC TV: "It might be ... We are getting closer to that point."

(Additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan in London, Aidan Lewis and Amina Ismail in Sharm El-Sheikh and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Keith Weir and David Goodman)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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Updated Date: Feb 25, 2019 00:06:43 IST