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UK MPs hold votes on resetting course of Brexit

By AFP

Added 29th January 2019 02:33 PM

The draft divorce deal was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs on January 15 and deeply divided parliamentarians have been coming up with their own ideas to take a different path.

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Theresa May. Photo/File

The draft divorce deal was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs on January 15 and deeply divided parliamentarians have been coming up with their own ideas to take a different path.

British lawmakers will hold a series of votes on Tuesday that could reset the course for Brexit over the head of Theresa May, piling further pressure on the embattled prime minister.

With exactly two months to go until Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union, MPs will debate May's plan to attempt to renegotiate the deal she struck with Brussels even though EU leaders have repeatedly ruled this out.

The draft divorce deal was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs on January 15 and deeply divided parliamentarians have been coming up with their own ideas to take a different path.

After May opens a day of debate, MPs are set to vote from 1900 GMT on measures that could include preventing a no-deal Brexit, delaying Brexit, changing the negotiated deal and even seizing control of the entire process.

House of Commons speaker John Bercow will choose which amendments are voted on -- and his choices could prove controversial.

Pro-Brexit MPs have accused the speaker -- who publicly declared that he voted for Remain in the seismic 2016 referendum on Britain's EU membership -- of using his traditionally impartial positon to try to scupper Brexit.

'Compromise with us'

Brexit hardliners from May's Conservative Party are set against the divorce deal due to its so-called backstop proposal, which could see Britain indefinitely tied to EU trade rules in order to keep open the border with the Republic of Ireland.

Conservative MPs are being urged to support an amendment stating that parliament would be willing to support the divorce deal only if "alternative arrangements" were found to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

However, the Conservatives' hardcore Brexiteers -- who rebelled to vote against the draft deal on January 15 -- are yet to declare their hand.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, one of the top Brexiteers remaining in May's cabinet, told BBC radio that the prime minister was prepared to reopen the divorce agreement to secure a deal.

"We should send the prime minister back to Brussels with a strong mandate to be able to say: 'If you compromise with us on this one issue, on the the backstop, we would be able to get an agreement' -- an agreement that is almost there," he said.

'Groundhog Day'

However, the mood music from within the EU suggested otherwise.

Sabine Weyand, deputy to EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, said: "There's no negotiation between the EU and the UK. That negotiation is finished.

"It does feel like Groundhog Day."

She warned that Britain risked crashed out of the EU without a deal "by accident" because London cannot decide what it wants.

A source in French President Emmanuel Macron's office said Tuesday: "The withdrawal agreement and the backstop are not renegotiable. The EU has been clear on this point many times: this route is an impasse. We must move on."

And Ireland's Europe minister Helen McEntee called for "realism" from London.

"There can be no change to the backstop. It was negotiated over 18 months with the UK and by the UK.

"A bit of realism is needed at this stage," she said on Twitter.

No-deal risk

Tuesday's votes are the latest twist in the turmoil that the Brexit vote has unleashed in one of the world's top economies.

Increasing numbers of government ministers have warned they will not accept the prospect of Britain leaving without a deal on March 29, immediately severing all ties with its largest trading partner and threatening economic chaos.

One amendment would open the door for the House of Commons to bring in legislation preventing Britain leaving the EU without a deal by forcing May to delay Brexit for nine months if her deal is not approved before February 26.

It would also give MPs the ability to extend the deadline indefinitely.

MPs who want a second Brexit referendum pulled their amendment after it crucially failed to win the support of main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, although the idea will still be on the back-burner if Brexit is delayed.

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