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May delay: UK PM asks lawmakers for more time on Brexit

07:16 PM February 12, 2019
British PM faces confidence vote after Brexit humiliation

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London on January 16, 2019 ahead of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) to be followed by a debate and vote on a motion of no confidence in the government. – Prime Minister Theresa May faced a confidence vote on Wednesday after MPs overwhelmingly rejected her deal on leaving the European Union, raising fears of a disorderly “no-deal” Brexit. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP)

LONDON  — British Prime Minister Theresa May was urging restive lawmakers Tuesday to “hold their nerve” and give her more time to rework a divorce agreement with the European Union.

With Brexit just 45 days away, May was due to update the House of Commons on the state of negotiations, a day earlier than planned to give lawmakers more time to “digest” the remarks before a series of votes on Thursday.

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Some lawmakers want to use those votes to impose conditions on May’s government in an attempt to rule out a cliff-edge “no deal” Brexit and steer the U.K. toward a close relationship with the EU after Brexit.

May is seeking to buy time.

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The prime minister’s office said she would tell Parliament that “the talks are at a crucial stage. We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this House has required and deliver Brexit on time.”

Britain is scheduled to leave the bloc on March 29. Parliament last month rejected May’s deal with the EU, in part over a contentious plan to keep the border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland obstacle-free after Brexit.

The measure, known as the backstop, is a safeguard mechanism that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU and removes the need for checks along the border, until a permanent new trading relationship is in place.

Pro-Brexit British lawmakers fear it could trap the U.K. in regulatory lockstep with the EU, unable to strike new trade deals around the world.

May and other Cabinet ministers are holding talks with senior EU officials in an attempt to add a time limit or an exit clause to the backstop.

But EU leaders insist the legally binding withdrawal agreement can’t be changed.

Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said Monday that “something has to give” on the British side to secure an orderly Brexit.

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May has also held talks with the U.K.’s main opposition Labour Party, which says it could support a Brexit deal if the government committed to seeking a close relationship with the EU after Britain leaves. But any such move would cost May the support of a big chunk of her Conservative Party.

The political impasse leaves Britain lurching toward a chaotic “no-deal” departure that could be costly for businesses and ordinary people in both the U.K. and the EU.

May’s political opponents accuse the government of deliberately running down the clock until lawmakers face a last-minute choice between her deal and no deal.

House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, who is in charge of the parliamentary timetable, denied the government was wasting time. She said May would bring her deal back to Parliament for a vote “as soon as the issue around the backstop has been sorted out.”

“It is a negotiation. It’s not possible to predict the future,” she told the BBC.

Uncertainty about what trade relationship Britain will have with the bloc after Brexit is weighing on the U.K. economy

Figures released Monday showed Britain’s economy slowed last year to its joint-slowest annual rate since 2009 with business investment declining for four straight quarters. /gsg

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