Parliament to challenge British PM Theresa May for Brexit power in crucial votes

Lawmakers overwhelming rejected the agreement British Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated in a vote earlier this month. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - British Prime Minister Theresa May risks losing control of Brexit in a series of votes in Parliament this week that could see her forced to suspend the entire divorce or sent back to Brussels to negotiate the impossible.

There are two key battles that the House of Commons is preparing to settle on Tuesday (Jan 29), when it debates the next steps in Britain's split from the European Union: Mrs May is fighting one radical plan from pro-EU members of Parliament to delay the exit date to stop Britain from falling out of the bloc with no deal. If it passes, it would be the beginning of a long parliamentary battle to put Brexit on hold.

Eurosceptics in her Conservative Party are demanding she go back to the negotiating table to seek an unlikely rewrite of the most contentious part of the deal, focused on the Irish border. There is a chance she could agree, but the problem is the EU has repeatedly warned it will not abandon the Irish border backstop plan.

Britain is set to leave the EU on March 29. After lawmakers overwhelming rejected the agreement Mrs May negotiated in a vote earlier this month, the concern is that exiting without a deal will cause major disruptions, economic hardship and a return to violence in Northern Ireland.

Ms Yvette Cooper, the opposition Labour lawmaker behind one of the amendments that would force Mrs May to extend the exit process if Parliament cannot approve a deal, told the BBC on Sunday that she is not trying to block Brexit. She said the responsible thing to do is to end the "game of chicken" surrounding the possibility of no-deal.

Mrs May has privately told the Cabinet that she will not allow the country to leave without a deal, the Sun reported, citing unidentified people familiar with discussions.

Nevertheless, Mr Damian Hinds and Mr Matt Hancock, two of Mrs May's lieutenants, lined up on Sunday to argue that no-deal is not likely because no one wants that to happen - while at the same time saying it is important the option remains possible so an agreement can be reached.

The chances of passage for any amendment will depend on how Mrs May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn order their lawmakers to vote. Neither have made it clear in public which ones they will support.

Ireland reiterated on Sunday that it will insist on the guarantee of an open border to ensure there is no return to violence between the North and the Republic. Neither the EU nor Ireland would accept an escape clause from the so-called backstop or set a time limit, Irish Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said.

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