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British lawmakers vote on Theresa May’s unpopular EU exit deal


British Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday that if Parliament rejects her Brexit deal next week “we may never leave the EU”. (March 8)

Britain’s Parliament is due to determine on Tuesday the fate of Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular plan for exiting the European Union. 

After last-minute talks with the EU on Monday, May announced that the biggest roadblock to her Brexit divorce deal had been removed: legally binding changes relating to the status of Ireland’s border with Northern Ireland. 

May now needs to persuade skeptical British lawmakers to back her withdrawal agreement with the EU, which they overwhelmingly rejected in January.

The vote is expected around 7 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET). 

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU in less than three weeks and Tuesday’s vote is one of the last opportunities for May to get backing for her agreement from Parliament. 

“In politics, sometimes you get a second chance. It is what you do with this second chance that counts. Because there will be no third chance,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a press conference with May late Monday. 

“Let’s be crystal clear about the choice: it is this deal or Brexit might not happen at all,” he said. The European Commission is the EU’s executive branch. Juncker warned Britain there will be no new negotiations if lawmakers rejected the deal again.

More: ‘Bewildering, dire, disastrous’: Queen has a Brexit escape plan

However, May said in the hastily arranged news conference in Strasbourg, France – the official seat of the European Parliament – that the changes should overcome lawmakers’ concerns about a mechanism in her withdrawal deal designed to keep an open border between Britain’s Northern Ireland and Ireland, a member of the EU.

Years of EU-facilitated friction-less trade and travel across this border is viewed as a key cog in ensuring peace between Northern Ireland’s Irish Catholic community and its British Protestant one. It underpins the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 peace deal between the British and Irish governments and political parties in Northern Ireland.

The mechanism negotiated by May, known as the backstop, is also a a safeguard that would keep Britain in a customs union with the EU until new trade deal is in place. But supporters of Brexit fear the backstop could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely, thus significantly watering down its exit from the bloc.

“Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal and to deliver on the instruction of the British people,” May said Monday. 

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, but May has not been able to win parliamentary approval for her deal with the bloc on withdrawal terms and future relations. The impasse has raised fears of a chaotic “no-deal” Brexit that could mean major disruption for businesses and people in Britain and the EU’s other 27 members.

If lawmakers reject May’s deal again on Tuesday, lawmakers will vote over the following two days on whether to leave the EU without an agreement – an idea likely to be rejected – or to ask the EU to delay Brexit beyond the scheduled departure date.

May is also under mounting pressure to quit, although she can’t technically be forced from office for another year because she survived an earlier bid to oust her through a no-confidence vote in December. Nicky Morgan, a Conservative lawmaker, nevertheless said that May’s position will become ‘less and less tenable” if she suffers more defeats in Parliament this week. “It would be very difficult for the prime minister to stay in office for very much longer,” Morgan told the BBC on Tuesday. 


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