LONDON (AFP) - British Prime Minister Theresa May tried to persuade MPs to back the EU divorce deal, seeking to build bridges after lashing out at lawmakers for their indecision on Brexit.
Mrs May wrote to all MPs on Friday (March 22) to spell out the possible paths forward after European Union leaders granted a short delay to Britain’s departure date at this week’s EU summit.
However, the prime minister said she would not hold a third vote on the divorce deal next week if sufficient numbers do not switch sides in the coming days.
The premier faces daunting odds to persuade British lawmakers to support the plan – something they have already overwhelmingly rejected twice – by a new April 12 deadline agreed with the EU.
If Mrs May succeeds, Britain – which was staring at a cliff-edge deadline of March 29 for leaving the EU – will depart on May 22 under the terms of the withdrawal agreement struck with Brussels last year.
But if MPs cannot back the deal, then Britain can ask for another extension by April 12 or face a no-deal Brexit.
A further extension would require Britain to take part in European Parliament elections in May, despite having voted to leave the bloc three years ago.
FOUR OPTIONS AHEAD
In her letter, Mrs May said she would only bring the divorce agreement before the House of Commons again if it looked like there was sufficient support to pass the deal.
She spelled out the four options ahead, the first being to revoke Britain’s notice to leave the EU, “but that would betray the result of the referendum”, the second to leave with no deal on April 12 – which a majority of MPs have said they do not support, in a vote earlier this month.
“If it appears that there is sufficient support and the speaker permits it, we can bring the deal back next week and if it is approved we can leave on May 22,” she wrote.
But she said if there was not sufficient support or the house rejected it, Britain could ask for another extension and take part in the European Parliament elections, adding: “I strongly believe that... would be wrong”.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Friday at the close of the EU summit, EU Council President Donald Tusk said: “Until April 12, anything is possible.”
Brexit protesters were set to march in London on Saturday (March 23) demanding a second referendum. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would join.
“The EU’s decision to postpone things until at least April 12 has opened a window, and those of us who oppose Brexit must seize the chance it offers,” Ms Sturgeon said, according to the Press Association.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the bloc’s leaders would need another summit with Mrs May to discuss how to proceed if MPs reject the agreement again.
That prospect increased on Friday after Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up Mrs May’s government in parliament, accused the prime minister of “failure” at the EU summit.
“The government has been far too willing to capitulate,” Mr Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s leader in the British parliament, said in a statement, adding that “nothing has changed as far as the withdrawal agreement is concerned”.
Mrs May faces an immediate hurdle in the form of Mr John Bercow, the speaker of parliament’s lower House of Commons.
He has said the agreement being voted on has to be on different terms from the ones MPs have already rejected.
There was also heightened speculation that Mrs May is increasingly open to a series of so-called “indicative votes” that could reveal the level of parliamentary support for other options.
Parliament has been deadlocked for months over Brexit, with lawmakers unable to decide how to implement the 2016 referendum vote to leave, reflecting bitter divisions in the kingdom as a whole.
In her letter, Mrs May rowed back from Wednesday (March 20) night, when she made a statement lambasting MPs for failing to make their minds up on how they wanted to proceed on Brexit.
“I expressed my frustration with our failure to take a decision, but I know that many of you are frustrated too. You have a difficult job to do and it was not my intention to make it any more difficult,” she said.
The pound rose on news of the Brexit delay but is likely to remain volatile amid uncertainty over what path Britain will now take. Stocks in London ended the day 2.0 per cent lower.
As uncertainty continues to reign, more than 3.7 million people have signed an online petition calling on the government to cancel