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AFP
January 30, 2019

Mandate sought to reopen Brexit deal: May woos British MPs

World

AFP
January 30, 2019

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May urged MPs on Tuesday to give her a mandate to renegotiate her Brexit deal with the European Union, despite Brussels insisting it will not budge just two months before withdrawal day.

She asked the House of Commons for its support in seeking to re-open the agreement she struck with EU leaders only last month, but which was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs on January 15.

"The world knows what this house does not want. Today we need to send an emphatic message about what we do want," May told MPs ahead of a series of votes on what next steps they want her to take.

She is supporting a proposal that seeks to remove a controversial "backstop" clause on Northern Ireland from the divorce agreement. May promised that if this passed, she would seek a "significant and legally binding change to the withdrawal agreement" with the EU before Britain leaves the bloc as planned on March 29.

Speaking after a phone call with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, she acknowledged the opposition in Brussels to reopening the deal and said it "will not be easy".

"We have the chance to show the European Union what it will take to get a deal through this House of Commons. What it will take to move beyond the confusion, division and uncertainty that now hangs over us," she said. The rejection of May’s plan significantly raised the risk that Britain leaves the EU on March 29 with no new arrangements in place, leading to significant economic disruption on both sides of the Channel.

MPs were set to vote from 1900 GMT on the way forward, with amendments put forward including ruling out a "no deal" Brexit, delaying exit day and returning to the negotiating table. Brexit hardliners from May’s Conservative party oppose the backstop, which could see Britain indefinitely tied to EU trade rules in order to keep open the border with the Republic of Ireland.

The amendment backed by the prime minister calls for the backstop to be replaced with "alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border". Should she succeed, May has promised any revised deal would be put to a vote by MPs as soon as possible.

If there is no deal by February 13, she has promised to give MPs a chance to vote on what happens next on February 14. May accepted there was "limited appetite among our European partners" to changing the Brexit deal, which took almost two years to negotiate.

Sabine Weyand, deputy to EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, said: "There’s no negotiation between the EU and the UK. That negotiation is finished. "It does feel like Groundhog Day." She said Britain risked crashing out of the EU without a deal "by accident" because London cannot decide what it wants.

A source in French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said Tuesday: "The withdrawal agreement and the backstop are not renegotiable." And Ireland’s Europe minister Helen McEntee called for "realism" from London as "there can be no change to the backstop".

Tuesday’s votes are the latest twist in the turmoil that the Brexit vote has unleashed in one of the world’s top economies. Increasing numbers of government ministers have warned they will not accept the prospect of Britain leaving without a deal, immediately severing all ties with its largest trading partner.

British stocks jumped Tuesday and the pound was firmer ahead of the votes. One of the amendments to be voted on Tuesday would allow MPs to bring in legislation that could force May to delay Brexit if she has no deal by February 26.