LONDON • The leader of Britain's Parliament, Ms Andrea Leadsom, said she was beginning to wonder what game the European Union was playing over Brexit as relations between London and Brussels deteriorated ahead of a vote by lawmakers this week.
Less than three weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, Prime Minister Theresa May has failed to secure the changes to the divorce agreement she needs to gain the support of lawmakers who rejected it in a record rebellion in January. At the heart of the dispute is a disagreement over how to manage the border between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.
Last Friday, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier put forward a proposal to keep the border open and keep Northern Ireland subject to EU rules, which London rejected. "There is still hope, but I have to say I'm deeply disappointed with what we're hearing coming out of the EU," Ms Leadsom told Reuters. "I do have to ask myself what game are they playing here."
Asked who would be to blame if Mrs May loses the parliamentary vote again on Tuesday, Ms Leadsom said: "I would point to the EU needing to work closely with us."
Talks will continue in Brussels but, without a major breakthrough, Mrs May looks set to lose her second bid to get lawmakers' approval and ease Britain's exit from the EU. The main sticking point is the so-called Northern Irish backstop, an insurance policy to prevent a return of border controls in Ireland that eurosceptics believe is an attempt to trap the country in the EU's Customs union indefinitely. Mr Barnier's solution would potentially create a "border" in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, a move that is particularly unpalatable to Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, on which Mrs May relies to get her legislation passed after she lost her parliamentary majority.
Mrs May warned last Friday that if lawmakers rejected her deal on Tuesday, it would increase the chance that Brexit never happens. If her deal is rejected, lawmakers will be able to vote on Wednesday and Thursday on whether they want to leave the bloc without a deal or ask for a delay to Brexit beyond March 29.