SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt—British Prime Minister Theresa May promised on Feb. 24 to offer lawmakers a vote on her Brexit deal by March 12, the latest delay in 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 get changes to the divorce package but lawmakers may try on Feb. 27 to grab control of Brexit in a series of parliamentary votes.
After the British parliament voted 432-202 against her deal in January, the worst defeat in modern British history, May promised to seek changes that would allow lawmakers to ratify the agreement and thus 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, just 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 will try to win the backing of the EU’s leaders to secure the changes and ease increasing frustration in Europe over the political impasse in Britain over a deal that was agreed with London in November.
The EU has ruled out reopening the withdrawal agreement, though both sides are looking at a possible legal addendum to reassure lawmakers who worry the Irish border backstop could keep Britain trapped in the EU’s orbit for years to come.
“We have been having positive talks with the European Union … As you know I was in Brussels last week, ministers were in Brussels last week, my team will be back in Brussels again this coming week. They will be returning to Brussels on Tuesday,” May said.
“I think what’s important that we are still in that process of working with the EU, looking at the ways in which we can resolve the challenge that parliament raised.”
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 their former parties as broken remnants of a political system that was in meltdown.
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.
“What we have seen around the cabinet table, in the party and in the country at large is strong views on the issue of Europe. That is not a surprise to anybody,” May said.
“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.”
Senior figures in the opposition Labour Party said on Feb. 24 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 an 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.”
By Elizabeth Piper