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Theresa May acknowledges the possibility that Brexit may not happen next month


Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street to make a statement to the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. AP Photo


LONDON —Prime Minister Theresa May for the first time on Tuesday admitted that Brexit may be delayed, as the two main political parties and Parliament struggle over how — or even if — Britain should leave the European Union.


May told lawmakers that if they reject her Brexit deal again next month, they will have an opportunity to vote on whether to ask the European Union to allow Britain to remain a part of the trading bloc beyond the scheduled March 29 departure date.


May said that if such an extension were triggered, it would likely be granted only once by the E.U. and that the delay should be “short and limited.” She suggested an extension until June would be best, so Britain would not have to take part in the next round of elections for the European parliament.


This was a major concession by May, who until Tuesday had insisted not only that her Brexit deal the best and only one on offer, but that it would be reckless to delay leaving the European Union beyond March 29.


But May has struggled to win approval for her withdrawal agreement. Parliament overwhelmingly rejected her deal in a landslide vote last month.


She has faced a buzz saw of opposition from Brexit moderates and hard-liners in her own Conservative Party. The hardcore Tory Brexiteers, led by figures such as former foreign minister Boris Johnson, think May’s compromise Brexit proposals keep Britain tied too closely to Europe. May was also lashed by the resignations last week of three prominent Tories who want to remain in the European Union and fear May is about to drive Britain over a cliff-edge into a disastrous “no-deal” Brexit.


Now May is offering compromise in a series of possible votes, each one based upon the results of the one before.


The prime minister promised lawmakers they would have a “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal by March 12 — barely two weeks before the Brexit deadline.


If Parliament again rejects her deal, lawmakers would proceed with a vote on whether to rule out leaving the E.U. without a withdrawal deal in place. The no-deal scenario is seen by many as too risky and too costly to the British — and European — economies, though many hard line Brexiteers now favor it.


Finally, if Parliament rejects May’s deal and rejects leaving with no deal, then it will be asked if it wants to seek a months-long delay.


“I believe that if we have to, we will ultimately make a success of no-deal,” May told the lawmakers on Tuesday, to a chorus of hoots and boos. But she was clear that the best way forward was to approve her still-to-be-amended deal.


After her statement, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, told the House of Commons, “I’ve lost count of the number of times the prime minister has come to this house to explain a further delay.”


He said, “This is not dithering. It is a deliberate strategy to run down the clock.”

Corbyn said that May’s handling of Brexit is already having real-life consequences. “Factories relocating abroad, jobs being lost, investment being canceled, thousands of workers at sites across Britain’s towns and cities are hearing rumors and fearing for the worst,” he said.


On Monday, Corbyn also gave ground, announcing that the Labour Party would support a second referendum to stop what he called “a damaging Tory Brexit.”

While Labour Party delegates voted in September to back a second referendum, Corbyn had been cold to the idea. Many Labour voters — especially in Wales and the north of England — want Britain to leave the European Union.


But Corbyn revised his position after he, too, saw defections from his party. Nine Labour lawmakers who support remaining in the European Union resigned last week.

In her remarks, May offered no support for a second referendum.


Several lawmakers on Tuesday asked May how she would vote if, on March 13, there was indeed a vote on whether Parliament supported a “no deal” Brexit, a scenario that some say could be disastrous for the economy. Not that they were any the wiser.


“Will the prime minister do a brave thing and do once what is best for the country, not what is best for any of us,” said Jess Phillips, a Labour lawmaker, as she gestured to other lawmakers in the chamber. “Will she at least vote herself against no deal?”



May responded by saying that she would proceed with trying to leave the European Union.

william.booth@washpost.com

karla.adam@washpost.com


William Booth, Karla Adam -

The Washington Post - Tuesday, February 26, 2019

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