25 Feb 2019

British PM Theresa May delays Brexit vote to 12 March

5:30 am on 25 February 2019

British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised to offer MPs a vote on her Brexit deal by 12 March, the latest delay in her attempt to win approval for a plan to ensure Britain's orderly departure from the European Union.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May as she speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons in London on February 13, 2019

Theresa May said a 29 March deal was "still within our grasp'. (file photo) Photo: AFP / PRU

As the UK's labyrinthine Brexit crisis goes down to the wire, Mrs May is making a last-ditch effort to get changes to the divorce package but MPs may try on Wednesday to grab control of Brexit in a series of parliamentary votes.

After the British parliament voted 432-202 against her deal in January, Mrs May promised to seek changes that would allow MPs to ratify the agreement and thus avoid a potentially disorderly exit.

The prime minister 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, Mrs May and the British parliament will be on 12 March, just 17 days before Britain is due to leave on 29 March.

"We won't bring a meaningful vote to parliament this week but we will ensure that that happens by the 12th of March," Mrs May told reporters on board her plane on Sunday on her way to Egypt for an EU-Arab League summit.

"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, Mrs May was trying 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.

Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Sunday that it would be better to postpone Britain's departure from the European Union if British lawmakers failed to back at the beginning of March the Brexit deal negotiated with Brussels.

"If there is at the beginning of March no support for the deal we have, then I think it would be good to postpone the Brexit," Kurz told reporters on his arrival to the summit of EU and Arab League leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Still working with EU - May

The EU has ruled out reopening the withdrawal agreement, though both sides are looking at a possible legal addendum to reassure MPs 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," Mrs 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."

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 MPs who cast their former parties as broken remnants of a political system that was in meltdown.

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.

Senior figures in the opposition Labour Party said on Sunday it was moving closer to supporting another Brexit referendum and could do so as soon as early as this week.

- Reuters

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