Former PM Major urges May to drop Brexit red lines

LONDON (Reuters) – Former British prime minister John Major urged Theresa May on Saturday to drop her “red lines” on Brexit or allow parliament to find a way forward to avoid a damaging no-deal departure from the European Union in March.

Major said he compromised on key decisions on the Northern Irish peace process and the first Gulf War while prime minister between 1990 and 1997, and May should do the same after her Brexit plan was rejected by a huge majority in parliament.

“Her deal is dead and I don’t think honestly that tinkering with it is going to make very much difference if any difference at all,” Major, who campaigned to stay in the EU ahead of the 2016 referendum, told BBC Radio.

May is due to tell parliament on Monday how she intends to proceed on Brexit. Lawmakers may then propose alternatives to see if any could command majority support.

“If we leave in chaos and without a deal, that seems to me to be the worst of all outcomes,” Major said.

May should therefore “go around” lawmakers in her party who say they are ready to accept a no-deal Brexit and drop her opposition to key issues in the negotiations, Major – who also faced a revolt inside the Conservative Party over Europe – said.

May has ruled out staying in the EU’s single market, an option that is considered less economically damaging, because Britain would not be able to control immigration from the bloc. She has also rejected staying in a customs union with the EU.

If May cannot compromise, she should allow parliament to find a way to overcome its splits, Major said. “I think there are signs parliament might be able to reach consensus,” he said.

Failing that, Britain should have a fresh referendum on its membership of the EU.

In the meantime, delaying Brexit was wise, Major said.

Major’s comments were rejected as “Remainer elite views” by a Conservative lawmaker who said May would break her promises to voters if she considered staying in the EU’s single market or a customs union or holding a second referendum.

“Brexit would become meaningless. We wouldn’t be leaving the European Union, we would be staying in the European Union,” Suella Braverman told the BBC.

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May makes no change to demands in talks with EU leaders – report

(Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May made no change to her demands in talks with European Union leaders despite her Brexit plan being defeated by British lawmakers earlier this week, the Telegraph newspaper reported bit.ly/2RCdHch on Friday.

May’s demands continued to focus around either a legally binding time-limit for the Irish ‘backstop’; a right for Britain to unilaterally withdraw, or a commitment to a trade deal finalisation before 2021 to prevent the backstop from coming into force, the report said, citing unnamed senior EU diplomatic sources.

The backstop is an insurance policy designed to prevent the return of border checks on the frontier between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland.

May repeated her demands in talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Irish leader Leo Varadkar, the paper reported.

On Friday night, May was also going to meet Arlene Foster, leader of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which has 10 seats in parliament and supports May’s government but not her Brexit deal, a Telegraph reporter said on Twitter. The meeting would also be attended by Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the DUP.

May’s deal for Britain to leave the EU was defeated earlier this week by 230 votes. She has appealed to MPs to come together to try to break the impasse.

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Popcorn to hand, EU watches Brexit show but frets for own future

BRUSSELS/PARIS (Reuters) – EU Brexit negotiators are “watching the BBC and eating popcorn”, in the words of one of them, as Britain’s domestic rows over leaving make for compelling TV but frustrate Europe’s hopes for a clean break.

Unsure whether Britain will crash out of the European Union 10 weeks from now, prolong the agony in the hope of salvaging an orderly divorce or even change its mind and stay, its neighbors are torn between “Brexit boredom” and a worry it is distracting from their own pressing problems as campaigning gets under way for EU parliament elections in May.

Hours after a packed and rowdy House of Commons tore up the deal Prime Minister Theresa May spent two tortuous years arguing over, only a few dozen of their 751 counterparts in Strasbourg showed up on Wednesday to hear EU negotiator Michel Barnier tell them all he could do is wait for Britons to make up their minds.

Several in the debate praised Britain’s democratic history and were bemused by its poisonous meltdown over Brexit. Among them was Dutch conservative Esther de Lange: “Collectively, they don’t know what they want,” she said of watching the Commons in action. “But, boy, do they hold great speeches about it.”

Compared to a full house to mark the 20th anniversary of the euro, the EU currency Britain snubbed, the hundreds of empty seats around her were a mark of Europe’s weariness with Brexit.

But it also belied anxiety that paralysis in London will distract and divide leaders on other EU problems, from a slowing economy amid global trade disputes to deep divisions over money, migrants and Brexit-inspired Brussels-bashing by many members.

French President Emmanuel Macron says he does not want to “waste time” on Brexit as he presses to reshape the euro zone and the broader Union after the European elections in four months’ time.

His EU affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau said Brexit took up a third of her time: “It’s too much,” she said, “Because we have many other things to do in Europe than dealing with a divorce.”

“TIME TO MOVE ON”

Manfred Weber, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who is leading the center-right campaign, said that “Europe’s door is still open” should Britain decide to stay. But he told Reuters: “It is now time to move on and get Brexit over with.”

Weber complained that a “never-ending Brexit process” had taken “huge amounts of time, money and expertise” from the EU.

“It has consumed valuable political energy, especially in this election year,” he said, “And has held us back from shaping a real positive European agenda for the future.”

Nearly three years after Britain’s shock referendum vote to leave put supporters of European integration on the back foot, a push to regain momentum lies behind a summit of the remaining 27 leaders to be held in the Romanian town of Sibiu on May 9.

It was intended by EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker to focus minds on a future without one of Europe’s three biggest economies and two nuclear military powers, and be the culmination of efforts to end divisions threatening EU cohesion.

During last month’s EU summit, which they hoped would be the last on Brexit, leaders were visibly weary of it: “The fatigue was palpable,” said one diplomat in the room. “They don’t want to be bothered with it. They want to get it over with.”

UNITED ON BREXIT, DIVIDED ON EUROPE

If there has been a positive from Brexit, leaders say, it has been the exceptional unity the 27 have shown in negotiation — though a scary end-game could yet test that togetherness.

Many also believe turmoil in Britain has dampened appetites to follow suit, with European voters warming to the Union and euroskeptic governments, such as in Italy, Hungary and Poland, stressing their criticisms of the EU do not presage an exit.

Yet Sibiu and the EU elections on May 26 are set to expose continuing schisms on how to move the Union forward. Founders France and Germany disagree over tightening monetary union, as do Italy and its northern neighbors over sharing out migrants arriving by sea. Rich contributor states and the ex-communist east are split over filling a Britain-sized hole in the EU budget and over some eastern governments’ maneuvering to stifle their opponents.

“On Brexit, the EU has shown exceptional unity — if only we could show the same kind of unity on everything else,” lamented one diplomat involved in preparing the summit.

One result of May’s troubles could be that Britain is still a member come Sibiu and the EU elections — a new headache that makes some wary of extending the Brexit deadline. Few, however, seem willing to force Britain out against its will — yet.

Prolonging the process, though, is bad news, said an envoy to Brussels from a non-EU country. Leaders have tried to drive it down their list of priorities and ring-fence the negotiations in Barnier’s task force: “But Brexit sits around like a bad penny,” he said. “You can’t ignore it. It’s in your face and will continue to be in your face until it’s resolved.”

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UK in deadlock over Brexit 'Plan B' as May and Corbyn tussle

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s last-minute scramble to shape an EU exit, its biggest policy upheaval in half a century, stalled on Thursday as Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dug in their heels for competing visions.

After May’s two-year attempt to forge an amicable divorce with an independent trade policy was crushed by parliament in the biggest defeat for a British leader in modern history, May asked party leaders to forget self-interest to find a solution.

Yet there was little sign on Thursday that either of the two major parties — which hold 88 percent of the 650 seats in parliament — were prepared to compromise on key demands.

Corbyn said May had sent Britain hurtling towards the cliff edge of a disorderly exit on March 29 with no transition period, and urged her to ditch “red lines”.

But he repeated his own prerequisite for talks: a pledge to block a no-deal Brexit. May told Corbyn that was “an impossible condition” and urged him to join cross-party discussions.

“You have always believed in the importance of dialogue in politics. Do you really believe that, as well as declining to meet for talks yourself, it is right to ask your MPs not to seek a solution with the government?,” she said in a letter.

The further May moves towards softening Brexit, the more she alienates dedicated Brexit supporters in her own Conservative party who think the threat of a no-deal exit is a big bargaining chip and should anyway not be feared.

May’s spokeswoman said she held “constructive” talks on Thursday with MPs, including some from Labour.

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If she fails to forge consensus, the world’s fifth-largest economy will drop out of the European Union on March 29 without a deal or will be forced to delay Brexit, possibly holding a national election or another referendum.

Corbyn said that he might look at options including another referendum — a remark that increased market expectations the chaos could ultimately delay or stop Brexit. [GBP/]

But a second referendum would take a year to organise, according to government guidance shown to MPs on Wednesday, a source in May’s office said.

ANOTHER VOTE?

Corbyn wants May to call another election, something she has refused, having lost her parliamentary majority in a 2017 snap poll that left her reliant on the support of a small Northern Irish pro-Brexit party.

She has also repeatedly said another referendum would corrode faith in democracy among the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU in 2016. Her spokesman said Britain had not raised the idea of delaying exit with the EU.

As the United Kingdom tumbles towards its biggest political and economic shift since World War Two, other EU members have offered to talk.

“We will do everything we can so that Britain exits with, and not without, an agreement,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc was open to the possibility of a “more ambitious” deal than May’s, which he said could not be improved on under principles she set out.

But they can do little until London decides what it wants.

Ever since the UK voted by 52-48 percent to leave the EU, politicians have failed to agree on how or even whether to quit the bloc. If there is a solution to the riddle, it may be for parliament’s back-benchers to find it.

May will on Monday put forward a motion on her proposed next steps. Over the following week, MPs will be able to propose alternatives.

On Jan. 29, they will debate these plans, and voting on them should indicate whether any could get majority support.

If a way forward emerges, May could then go back to the EU and seek changes to her deal. Parliament would still need to vote on any new agreement, and it is not clear when that might happen.

Labour says it would back a deal with a permanent customs union with the EU — which would resolve the problem of managing the land border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic — as well as a close relationship with its single market and greater protections for workers and consumers.

Most Conservative MPs reject a customs union because it would prevent Britain having an independent trade policy — one of their main demands.

Without any deal, trade with the EU would default to basic World Trade Organization rules — a worrying prospect for manufacturers dependent on smooth, uncomplicated supply lines.

Company chiefs are aghast at the crisis and say it has already damaged Britain’s reputation as Europe’s pre-eminent destination for foreign investment.

From Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel to Scottish whisky distillers, firms want decisive government action.

“If anybody believes that you can just go ahead without some sort of an agreement here, I think that that is reckless,” said John Bason, finance chief of Associated British Foods (ABF.L), a food and retail group with annual sales of over $20 billion (15.4 billion pounds).

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Radical rethink needed to get Brexit deal, EU tells British PM Theresa May

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – The scale of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit defeat has convinced the European Union to demand she radically rethink the UK’s red lines as the bloc signalled its willingness to delay Britain’s withdrawal by many months.

The EU had been preparing to make limited concessions over the much-loathed Irish border backstop to help May convince Parliament to back her deal.

But the 230-vote loss on Tuesday night (Jan 15) changed that: European governments now believe a more fundamental shift is needed and the move has to come from the UK side, three diplomats said.

It adds to growing evidence that Brexit is unlikely to happen on the long-scheduled date of March 29, with European governments willing to delay Britain’s departure well into the second half of the year, according to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

But they told May she needs to enter into credible cross-party discussions to ensure there’s a unified British position on Brexit, then present the EU with a roadmap for the way forward.

And that’s what May is now doing. After narrowly surviving a confidence vote on Wednesday, May invited the leaders of rival parties in for talks on how to move ahead with Brexit.

EU diplomats say the next step could be to reopen the political declaration – the part of the agreement dealing with future relations – to make it clearer that ties will remain close after the split.

That could include signing up permanently to a customs union with the EU, which has been one of May’s red lines but is the policy of the opposition Labour Party.

It would remove the need for many elements of the backstop, which is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, but would anger pro-Brexit lawmakers who believe it would betray the result of the 2016 referendum.

While many EU officials expect May to ask for an extension to the exit day, European governments still disagree over whether it should be allowed – and how long it should last.

Some believe their vision for getting the deal passed can still be achieved over the next 10 weeks, others think an extension is needed that could stretch Britain’s membership well into the second half of 2019. One official said September 2019 could be the new deadline.

May told Parliament on Wednesday that the plan was still to leave March 29 but left the door open to an extension. UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond floated to businesses the prospect of a delay to the end-of-March departure date.

May is not now expected in Brussels this week because she has work to do at home, according to EU diplomats, although she will contact EU leaders on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

An extraordinary summit of leaders to help May sell the deal is likely before the next regular meeting at the end of March.

Related Stories: 

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UK in deadlock over Brexit 'Plan B' as May and Corbyn tussle

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s last-minute scramble to shape an EU exit, its biggest policy upheaval in half a century, stalled on Thursday as Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dug in their heels for competing visions.

After May’s two-year attempt to forge an amicable divorce with an independent trade policy was crushed by parliament in the biggest defeat for a British leader in modern history, May asked party leaders to forget self-interest to find a solution.

Yet there was little sign on Thursday that either of the two major parties — which hold 88 percent of the 650 seats in parliament — were prepared to compromise on key demands.

Corbyn said May had sent Britain hurtling towards the cliff edge of a disorderly exit on March 29 with no transition period, and urged her to ditch “red lines”.

But he repeated his own prerequisite for talks: a pledge to block a no-deal Brexit. May told Corbyn that was “an impossible condition” and urged him to join cross-party discussions.

“You have always believed in the importance of dialogue in politics. Do you really believe that, as well as declining to meet for talks yourself, it is right to ask your MPs not to seek a solution with the government?,” she said in a letter.

The further May moves towards softening Brexit, the more she alienates dedicated Brexit supporters in her own Conservative party who think the threat of a no-deal exit is a big bargaining chip and should anyway not be feared.

May’s spokeswoman said she held “constructive” talks on Thursday with MPs, including some from Labour.

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If she fails to forge consensus, the world’s fifth-largest economy will drop out of the European Union on March 29 without a deal or will be forced to delay Brexit, possibly holding a national election or another referendum.

Corbyn said that he might look at options including another referendum — a remark that increased market expectations the chaos could ultimately delay or stop Brexit. [GBP/]

But a second referendum would take a year to organise, according to government guidance shown to MPs on Wednesday, a source in May’s office said.

ANOTHER VOTE?

Corbyn wants May to call another election, something she has refused, having lost her parliamentary majority in a 2017 snap poll that left her reliant on the support of a small Northern Irish pro-Brexit party.

She has also repeatedly said another referendum would corrode faith in democracy among the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU in 2016. Her spokesman said Britain had not raised the idea of delaying exit with the EU.

As the United Kingdom tumbles towards its biggest political and economic shift since World War Two, other EU members have offered to talk.

“We will do everything we can so that Britain exits with, and not without, an agreement,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc was open to the possibility of a “more ambitious” deal than May’s, which he said could not be improved on under principles she set out.

But they can do little until London decides what it wants.

Ever since the UK voted by 52-48 percent to leave the EU, politicians have failed to agree on how or even whether to quit the bloc. If there is a solution to the riddle, it may be for parliament’s back-benchers to find it.

May will on Monday put forward a motion on her proposed next steps. Over the following week, MPs will be able to propose alternatives.

On Jan. 29, they will debate these plans, and voting on them should indicate whether any could get majority support.

If a way forward emerges, May could then go back to the EU and seek changes to her deal. Parliament would still need to vote on any new agreement, and it is not clear when that might happen.

Labour says it would back a deal with a permanent customs union with the EU — which would resolve the problem of managing the land border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic — as well as a close relationship with its single market and greater protections for workers and consumers.

Most Conservative MPs reject a customs union because it would prevent Britain having an independent trade policy — one of their main demands.

Without any deal, trade with the EU would default to basic World Trade Organization rules — a worrying prospect for manufacturers dependent on smooth, uncomplicated supply lines.

Company chiefs are aghast at the crisis and say it has already damaged Britain’s reputation as Europe’s pre-eminent destination for foreign investment.

From Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel to Scottish whisky distillers, firms want decisive government action.

“If anybody believes that you can just go ahead without some sort of an agreement here, I think that that is reckless,” said John Bason, finance chief of Associated British Foods (ABF.L), a food and retail group with annual sales of over $20 billion (15.4 billion pounds).

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After Defeat on Brexit Plan, Theresa May Faces No-Confidence Vote

LONDON — After suffering the worst parliamentary defeat in modern times over her plans for leaving the European Union, Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, braced for another day of turmoil on Wednesday, when she will face a vote of no confidence in her battered government.

On Tuesday Mrs. May lost by a crushing margin, 432 to 202, when Parliament voted on her plan for European Union withdrawal, or Brexit, as the clock ticks toward March 29 when Britain is scheduled to leave.

Lawmakers will spend much of Wednesday debating whether Mrs. May’s government should continue in power before voting at around 7 p.m. on a motion that could, in theory, lead to a general election.

That is an unlikely outcome, analysts say, because many of those who voted against Mrs. May’s withdrawal plan, including hard-line pro-Brexit rebels in her Conservative Party, and a group of 10 lawmakers from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, have said they will support the government on Wednesday.

They argue that they want to replace Mrs. May’s deal, not her, and they prefer her badly weakened leadership to the prospect of an election that could bring the opposition Labour Party to power.

Nonetheless, another day of drama and political crisis in London underscores the extent to which Mrs. May’s strategy for leaving the European Union is now in disarray, leaving Britain in a perilous position, just 10 weeks before the country is scheduled to depart the bloc.

Ordinarily, a prime minister would be expected to resign after suffering a big defeat on a signature bill, but Brexit has rewritten the rules of British politics. So Mrs. May, who is scheduled to answer questions in Parliament at noon, can expect to survive the no confidence debate that will then begin.

After Tuesday’s defeat, Mrs. May’s opponents are focusing on an array of contradictory objectives, demonstrating that more than two and a half years after Britons voted to leave the European Union, their politicians have failed to reach any consensus on how to do so.

One faction in Parliament advocates a more complete and abrupt break from Europe than the one the prime minister has negotiated with Brussels; another supports Mrs. May’s plan; another wants a softer Brexit than she has proposed; and yet another still hopes for no Brexit at all.

Assuming that Mrs. May survives the day as expected, she has promised consultations and to reach out to political opponents — though not the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn — before she has to return to tell lawmakers on Monday how she plans to proceed.

For now, Mrs. May seems still to hope that she can do this without a fundamental change that would soften her plan and keep closer ties to the European Union, something that would almost certainly provoke resignations from pro-Brexit members of her own cabinet.

She is unlikely to win support from significant numbers of opposition lawmakers, however, unless she embraces the notion of keeping a permanent customs union with the bloc, a change that would prevent Britain from having an independent trade policy and keep it tied to some European rules.

May’s Brexit Deal Failed. What Happens Now?

Nobody knows, really. But these are the likeliest scenarios.

And if Mrs. May attempts to plow ahead without any significant adjustments to her plan, an increasingly assertive Parliament is likely to try to wrest control of the process from her government.

Though there is no consensus among lawmakers on a way forward, a very large majority of them want to exclude the possibility of leaving the bloc without a deal, because they fear that could create chaos at British ports, cause shortages of some food and medicines, and plunge Britain into a recession.

If Wednesday’s motion of no confidence fails, as is widely expected, Mr. Corbyn will face increased pressure from within his own ranks to support the idea of holding another referendum that could reverse Brexit.

So, despite the disarray, the defeat on Tuesday probably marks the beginning of the endgame in the Brexit process.

European Union officials have reacted with exasperation to the confusion in London, and so far say they are unwilling to reopen the legally binding part of the deal that Mrs. May negotiated. This includes plans for one of the most contested sections of the agreement, the “backstop” proposals to ensure goods flow freely across the Irish border after Brexit, and that would keep the whole of the United Kingdom tied to many European rules until agreement on a detailed trade deal that would remove the need for frontier checks.

Many analysts and European officials believe that Britain will be forced to ask to postpone the March 29 deadline for withdrawal.

President Emmanuel Macron of France predicted on Wednesday that the British will “ask for an extension to negotiate something else.” But first, he said, he believed Mrs. May would try to win new concessions from the European Union, hoping to “come back to vote again,” only to have Brussels refuse to sweeten the deal.

His minister for European affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, told France Inter radio: “It’s not up to us, the French, the Europeans, to tell the Britons what they must do. What we can tell them is ‘Hurry up!’ because March 29 is tomorrow.”

On Wednesday, Brexit supporters argued that the scale of Mrs. May’s defeat showed that she needed to renegotiate the Irish backstop provisions, which they fear could leave the country tied indefinitely to European Union rules.

“There is just no way that this backstop is going to go through Parliament,” the pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker Steve Baker told the BBC.

But another senior Conservative lawmaker, Oliver Letwin, told the broadcaster that the government needed to be “much more flexible,” and that Mrs. May needed to scrap the red lines she had laid down as the fundamental principles of her negotiation. “This is not a terrain in which you can have things you can never do,” he said.

A broader rethinking now seems likely if Mrs. May is to have any chance of success, analysts say, and that will probably involve testing the degree of support in Parliament for different options.

“Although May is wary, she may eventually be forced to bow to pressure from ministers and backbenchers to allow members of Parliament to stage ‘indicative votes’ on Brexit options,” Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at the consulting firm Eurasia Group, wrote in an analysis.

These options may include everything from keeping close ties to the European Union, as Norway has, to having a permanent customs union, to holding a second referendum.

Elian Peltier contributed reporting from Paris.

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UK PM May to give statement shortly after 2200 GMT

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May will give a statement from Downing Street shortly after 2200 GMT, her office said on Wednesday, after she survived a parliamentary no confidence vote.

May has proposed immediate talks with other party leaders in an attempt to break the deadlock on a Brexit divorce agreement after her plan was heavily defeated by lawmakers on Tuesday.

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Theresa May, Britain’s Lady of Perpetual Crisis

LONDON — It’s Wednesday morning. Theresa May’s career is over, as a glance at the morning papers will confirm.

Her Brexit deal, the product of two-and-a-half years of agonizing negotiation, has been rejected by a margin of 230 votes, in the worst defeat in British history. “No Deal … No Hope … No Clue … No Confidence,” declares the Mirror. The Sun photoshops her face onto the body of a dodo.

Now it’s Wednesday afternoon. Hey! She’s back!

The Labour Party is making a bid to dissolve the government. Leaping to Mrs. May’s defense like gallant knights are fellow Tories, among them many who have spent the last few months plotting to remove her.

“She personifies duty, she is a patriot and a servant of our country,” said one. Another praised her “inspirational leadership.” Yet another predicted that “her stock in this country will rise dramatically.”

This is the bizarro world that is British politics, a Groundhog Day in which Mrs. May awakes every day to discover herself in a dire political crisis, and every day survives, in her grim, implacable way.

The rallying of Tories against Labour’s bid to bring down the government, which was defeated by a margin of 19 votes, did it again, the thing that had seemed impossible: It put wind into her sails.

“She is indestructible,” wrote Tom Peck, a sketch writer for the Independent, reflecting on the events of the day. “She is the cockroach in nuclear winter. She is the algae that survives on sulphuric gas from subaquatic volcanoes, seven miles beneath the daylight. She is the Nokia 5210.”

Mrs. May rarely gives any sense of being chastened by a defeat, plowing ahead in the manner that earned her the nickname “Maybot.”

The Scottish Labour lawmaker Stewart McDonald grilled her on Wednesday for signs that she was ready to reconsider her Brexit strategy. She did not comply, responding with a set of now-familiar, automatic phrases, like “deliver Brexit for the British people,” which sent Mr. McDonald into a spasm of frustration.

“I’m trying to be helpful to the prime minister, believe it or not, but this is pure robotic fantasy,” Mr. McDonald said. He grumbled about it later on Twitter, writing: “I tried. But alas, the robot within the PM kicked in and she stuck to her script.”

The day provided a number of surreal moments that tested the nation’s storied capacity for calm.

At one point, Parliament broke away from the nonstop Constitutional brush fire surrounding Brexit — The Guardian chose to augment its masthead on Wednesday with a reproduction of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” — to address an obscure motion banning the excessively low positioning of letter boxes.

Postmen complain that low letter boxes can cause back pain or even, occasionally, hand injuries, explained a lawmaker, Vicky Ford, who noted with admiration that several European countries also regulate the size of letter box “apertures.”

“I hope this will be a moment of unity in British politics,” she said brightly.

Ten minutes, and it was back to the meltdown of British democracy.

As Conservative lawmakers lined up to express their loyalty to Mrs. May, Vicki Young, the BBC’s chief political correspondent, marveled at their pivot from the day before, when many among them had been gleefully plotting to sink her hard-won Brexit deal.

Their circling of the wagons, she concluded, was “tribal.”

“It feels like a parallel universe, doesn’t it, considering where we were last night, just 24 hours ago,” she said. “I have to say, looking at the scenes in the last half-hour or so, it’s the most united the Conservative benches have been, probably, for months.”

A notable tribute to Mrs. May came from Conservative lawmaker Mark Francois, a leader of the arch-Brexiteer European Research Group.

Mr. Francois, in November, submitted a scathing letter to the party’s 1922 committee, which has the power to remove the party leader, saying Mrs. May “just doesn’t listen” and is “in complete denial.” Since then, he has missed no opportunity to criticize her deal, which he described as “rancid,” and complained that, instead of submitting the deal to a vote, members of her government had “gone and run away and hidden in the toilet.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Francois stood in her defense, acknowledging, to widespread laughter, that “she and I have not seen entirely eye to eye in the past.”

“But I am a Conservative first and last, and I know opportunism when I see it,” he said. “I can tell you, when the bells ring, the whole of the ERG will walk through the lobbies with her, to vote this nonsense down.”

The failed challenge to Mrs. May’s leadership came at just the right time, drawing attention away from the dismal failure of her Brexit bill, said Nikki da Costa, a former Downing Street staffer who now works as senior counsel for the Cicero Group, a consulting firm.

“Without a doubt, it is a wonderful distraction,” she said. “It moves the news story forward very, very quickly.”

It does not, however, resolve the matter at hand.

On the heels of her crushing defeat on Tuesday, Mrs. May vowed to forge a deal that could win passage, but declined to offer specifics.

There is speculation that she could seek a postponement of the March 29 deadline, and agree to keep a permanent customs union with the European bloc. She said on Wednesday that she would invite opposition party leaders to discuss a compromise, but Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposing Labour Party, asked her to first rule out leaving the European Union without any agreement.

Mrs. May’s survival may provide ballast as this process moves forward, Ms. da Costa said. When historians relate the story of Brexit, she said, they may not even recall Tuesday’s epic defeat as the most important event of the week.

“As the years go by, and the 24-hour news cycle passes, it will be interesting to know which bits stand in the memory,” she said. “Certainly the numbers for her defeat were very, very big yesterday. The fact that she is still standing suggests a strange form of stability.”

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British banks soldier on through enduring Brexit impasse

LONDON (Reuters) – British banks swerved heavy share price losses in early trading on Wednesday, hours after a parliamentary vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal returned the most blistering defeat for a UK government in almost a century.

State-backed Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) and Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY.L) enjoyed rises of 1.7 percent and 1.4 percent respectively, while Barclays (BARC.L) and HSBC (HSBA.L) saw stocks up by 0.7 percent each by 0909 GMT.

Analysts said risks of further deadlock were already priced into bank shares during the lengthy hiatus since the originally planned vote which the prime minister suspended in December.

The modest rises suggest momentum is building behind a ‘Plan B’ compromise, according to some investors including David Roberts, co-manager on the Liontrust Strategic Bond fund.

“Global investors now believe the chances of a ‘hard’ economically damaging Brexit have receded … There is still a long way to go, but hopes of a mutually beneficial solution are growing,” he said.

Opponents to May’s deal have honed in on several elements, including the Irish “backstop” and fears of a so-called “divorce bill” that could run to 39 billion pounds ($50.2 billion).

While bank shareholders shrugged off the latest drama at Westminster, Lloyds separately announced a commitment to lend 18 billion pounds to established UK firms and start-ups during 2019 in its latest effort to shore up business sentiment.

“During these uncertain times, it is important that our customers have financial support and expert guidance to navigate the challenges they may face,” Chief Executive Antonio Horta Osorio said in a statement.

“Whatever the future brings, we will continue to support UK businesses as part of our commitment to help Britain prosper.”

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