May tries to save Brexit after vote to delay UK exit
London – British Prime Minister Theresa May worked Friday to pull off an against-the-odds rescue for her European Union divorce deal, after Parliament voted to postpone Brexit to avert a chaotic U.K. departure in two weeks.
May planned to spend the next few days trying to persuade opponents in her Conservative Party and its parliamentary allies to support the withdrawal agreement, which Parliament has resoundingly defeated twice. That left Britain facing a disruptive “no-deal” exit on March 29, when a two-year countdown to departure triggered in 2017 runs out.
After months of political deadlock, the House of Commons voted by 413-202 Thursday to ask the EU to delay Britain’s exit.
The vote in itself won’t prevent Britain crashing out of the bloc – an outcome that could mean major disruption for businesses and people in the U.K. and the 27 remaining EU countries. By law, Britain will leave the EU on March 29, with or without a deal, unless it cancels Brexit or secures a delay.
Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit had “diminished.”
He said he hoped the U.K. would “leave as soon as possible in an orderly fashion” if Parliament backs May’s withdrawal agreement next week.
Any delay must be approved by all 27 remaining EU nations, who are quickly losing patience with British political shenanigans.
German Justice Minister Katarina Barley said Britain must use any extra time it is granted productively.
Barley, who is half British, told RBB radio on Friday that “giving more time alone will produce no solution.”
“I think the EU would be willing to give more time, but there must be some sort of a plan what should happen in this time,” she said.
May is expected to hold another vote on her deal before Wednesday. The following day, she is due to attend an EU summit in Brussels, where she will formally ask the bloc for a Brexit extension.
If her deal is approved, May will seek a delay until June 30 to give time for Parliament to pass the legislation needed for Britain’s EU exit.
She has warned lawmakers opposing the agreement that if it is rejected Britain will need a much longer extension, which could see Brexit postponed indefinitely.
Pro-Brexit lawmakers in May’s Conservative Party have rejected the withdrawal deal – which lays out the terms of Britain’s departure and the outline of future relations with the EU – because they think it keeps Britain too closely bound to the bloc’s rules and regulations.
But May hopes they will change their mind if they face a choice between her deal and remaining in the EU.
Still, she faces a struggle to overturn the huge defeats for the agreement, which was rejected by 230 votes in Parliament in January, and by 149 votes this week.
Success would be a remarkable turnaround for May, whose authority has been shredded by a series of defeats in Parliament. This week alone, lawmakers voted to defeat May’s withdrawal agreement, to rule out leaving without a deal, and to seek a Brexit delay.
May’s government and her Conservative Party are divided and discipline has frayed, with several ministers refusing to back the government’s line in voting. In one unusual episode on Thursday, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay urged Parliament to support the government’s motion to seek a Brexit delay – then voted against it himself.