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MPs roll dice in quest for last-gasp Brexit deal

By Earle Gale in London | China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-31 08:52

UK, EU will likely enter a lengthy battle over whether talks can be reopened

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during a debate on her Brexit 'plan B' in Parliament, in London, Britain, January 29, 2019. Jessica Taylor Via Reuters

British Prime Minister Theresa May now has some clarity about the changes she must make to her proposed Brexit withdrawal deal if she is to have any hope of getting it approved by Parliament - and her task is daunting.

In a series of votes on Tuesday evening, members of Parliament showed her she will likely be able to win the support she needs for her amended Brexit divorce deal, if she can win concessions from the European Union related to the so-called Irish backstop portion of the deal. The EU immediately said that was not going to happen.

"The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation," the BBC quoted European Council President Donald Tusk as saying.

French President Emmanuel Macron also offered May little hope, saying the agreement the EU and UK finalized in November was "not renegotiable".

And Simon Coveney, the Irish Republic's foreign minister, said the backstop, which aims to avoid a post-Brexit hard border between Northern Ireland and the republic by binding the United Kingdom to EU rules until a free-trade deal is agreed, remained "necessary".

"We have been through all of these things. We have tested them and we have found that they do not stand up to scrutiny, and now we have a British prime minister advocating again for the same things that were tested," Coveney told national broadcaster RTE.

"What we are being asked to do here is to compromise on a solution that works and to replace it with wishful thinking. That's what's being asked of the Irish government and we won't do it."

The Independent newspaper predicted the two sides will likely enter a lengthy battle over whether talks can be reopened.

Substantial, sustainable

With May in an apparently difficult position, Carolyn Fairbairn, head of a business lobby group, the Confederation of British Industry, said on Wednesday: "I don't think there will be a single business this morning who is stopping or halting their no-deal planning as a result of what happened yesterday."

She said the amendment "feels like a real throw of the dice".

But May looks to have won herself some time and told Parliament it was clear there was now a "substantial and sustainable" majority of MPs in favor of leaving the EU with an appropriate deal.

She said after the vote was passed by 317 votes to 301 that she will endeavor to get back around the table with the EU, but admitted a new round of talks in which the government will "redouble its efforts" to get a deal MPs can support "will not be easy".

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said he is now prepared to sit down with May in the hope of thrashing out some sort of compromise. He had previously said he would not talk to her while the possibility of leaving the EU without a divorce deal - a so-called no-deal Brexit - was a possibility.

MPs supported a non-binding amendment on Tuesday urging the PM not to allow a no-deal to happen and that was good enough for Corbyn. The Guardian newspaper said the first of the meetings between them would take place immediately.

May said she will bring an amended version of her Brexit withdrawal deal back before Parliament "as soon as possible".

While Tusk said he will not talk about the proposed divorce deal, he did say he was prepared to discuss the political declaration the bloc issued that outlines the desired future relationship between the UK and the EU.

And he said the EU is ready to consider deferring the UK's planned March 29 exit date, something the UK has not yet asked for.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay claimed on Radio 4's Today program that Tuesday's vote "overturned a defeat of 230 into a victory" and said May now has a "clear mandate" to get back around the table in Brussels.

He said the sides may find alternatives to the controversial Irish backstop in technological solutions that avoid a hard border, or in agreeing a time limit on how long the UK could be required to remain in the backstop.

If May's amended Brexit withdrawal deal is again rejected by Parliament when it returns, MPs will get yet another opportunity to amend it.



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