A frustrated British Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday cast further doubt on whether Britain’s three-year effort to leave the European Union will ever become a reality.
If lawmakers reject her next amended plan — expected to be presented this week — Britain “will not leave the EU for many months, if ever,” Mrs. May warned in an op-ed in The Sunday Telegraph.
She said the rejection of the most recent plan to extract the country from the EU will force Britain to participate in Europe’s parliamentary elections in May — a full three years after the landmark Brexit referendum.
British participation in the May elections would be “a potent symbol of Parliament’s collective political failure,” Mrs. May wrote. Under Mrs. May’s initial Brexit plan, Britain was scheduled to leave the EU on March 29.
A parliamentary vote held Thursday to extend that deadline could keep Britain in the European Union through the May parliamentary elections, and possibly beyond, Mrs. May said.
“If the proposal were to go back to square one and negotiate a new deal, that would mean a much longer extension,” for a Brexit deal, she wrote
“The idea of the British people going to the polls to elect [European lawmakers] three years after voting to leave the EU hardly bears thinking about,” she added.
British lawmakers voted to extend the Brexit deadline a day after Parliament on Wednesday voted down a proposal to leave without a viable exit plan.
The deadline extension vote also took place less than a week after Mrs. May’s latest version of the Brexit deal with Europe was shot down.
It was the second time parliamentarians have rejected Mrs. May’s plans to withdraw Britain from the EU this year.
Mrs. May is expected to present a new Brexit plan to lawmakers this week, laying out a revised series of political, economic and diplomatic agreements that would rewrite Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe.
A major crux of the new Brexit plan will be how London and the EU agree to handle Britain’s contentious border with Ireland.
Both British and European leaders agreed not to re-establish a hard border — replete with British troops and military checkpoints — between the British territory of Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland, which remains a part of the EU.
Fortification of the Irish border, it’s feared, would usher in a new wave of violence in Northern Ireland, reminiscent of the terrorism that plagued the area for decades.
Under May’s initial plan, a so-called “Irish backstop” would temporarily allow European goods to travel between Northern Ireland and Britain with little to no additional checks or screenings.
British parliamentarians balked at the idea, saying it would give preferential status to Northern Ireland.
Mrs. May’s government is aiming to lock in parliamentary backing of her revised plan, including language addressing the Irish backstop issue, after a meeting with EU leaders next Thursday.
During the meeting in Brussels, Mrs. May is expected to request “a short limited technical extension” of Britain’s departure from Europe, from March 29 to June 30, according to recent reports.
The extension would allow the May government more time to finalize a Brexit deal with Parliament. If European leaders do not approve the extension, by law Britain must withdraw from the EU by the initial March deadline. Jeremy Corbin, leader of the opposition Labor Party bloc in Parliament, said Sunday his members remain firmly against Mrs. May’s newest version of a Brexit plan.
But Mr. Corbin said he would support a compromise version of Mrs. May’s Brexit plan that includes a mandate for a new referendum vote on whether Britain should part ways with Europe.
The Labor Party leader has already reportedly reached out to other, anti-Brexit factions in Parliament, seeking their support for the compromise plan.
Mr. Corbin is also preparing for another parliamentary defeat of the Brexit plan next week, telling Sky News that he will seek another no-confidence vote on Mrs. May — which would end her tumultuous tenure as prime minister.
Mrs. May barely survived one no-confidence vote in January by a 325 to 306 margin after the first defeat of her Brexit plan. But members of Mrs. May’s own administration are expressing optimism that her latest Brexit package will muster enough support.
“A significant number of colleagues [in Parliament] have changed their view on this and decided that the alternatives are so unpalatable to them that they on reflection think the prime minister’s deal is the best way to deliver Brexit,” Finance Minister Philip Hammond told the BBC on Sunday. Mrs. May needs 75 lawmakers to change their no votes on the Brexit deal to yes votes, if the new plan is to survive Parliament.
Asked if the new Brexit deal could clear that hurdle, Mr. Hammond replied: “Not yet, [but] it is a work in progress.”
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