LONDON (AFP) – The British government said it intended to put Prime Minister Theresa May’s twice-rejected Brexit deal to a third parliamentary vote on Friday (March 29) to avoid a chaotic no-deal divorce from the EU in two weeks.
May’s throw of the dice comes a day after her dramatic pledge to resign in order to persuade her rivals to finally back her vision for breaking Britain’s 46-year bond with the European project.
The government’s back is against the wall as it tries to keeping its economy from imploding and the pound from plunging when a post-Brexit border splits the two tight trading partners.
Andrea Leadsom, the government’s representative in parliament, said on Thursday that May’s team was trying to secure permission for a third vote from speaker John Bercow.
He had already rejected a similar attempt last week after ruling that May’s text was essentially the same one lawmakers resoundingly voted down for a second time two weeks ago.
“We recognise that any motion brought forward tomorrow will need to be compliant with the speaker’s ruling and that discussion is ongoing,” Leadsom told the chamber.
Anxious EU leaders last week offered Britain a Brexit extension until May 22.
But it is conditional on parliament voting through May’s deal by Friday – the day Britain was originally scheduled to leave the bloc.
Parliament’s failure to pass the pact that was signed off last year by May and the 27 EU leaders could result in a feared “no-deal Brexit” scenario on April 12.
Britain might then try to avoid crashing out by seeking a much longer extension that would force it to take part in European Parliament elections in May.
The prime minister’s handling of Brexit has provoked both anger and frustration as well as ridicule at home and abroad.
She played what may have been her last political card on Wednesday by promising to quit once the first stage of the messy divorce process is complete.
“I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations and I won’t stand in the way of that,” May told a packed meeting of party members.
Her promise won over some likely contenders for her job.
Former foreign minister Boris Johnson said he would now back the premier “on behalf of the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit” in the deeply divisive 2016 referendum.
But the opposition Labour party said May’s pledge only created more uncertainties by leaving open the question of who would lead the trade talks that will define EU-UK relations for decades to come.
“It’s even more of a blindfold Brexit,” Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said.
“We now know that the outcome of our future relationship with the EU is not going to be determined by her.”
May’s position was undermined further when her allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said they would continue to oppose the deal.
The tiny group props up May’s minority government and is playing a decisive role in the political saga that has consumed Britain and left its EU partners increasingly perplexed.
The DUP fears provisions in May’s deal aimed at keeping a free-flowing border between Britain’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
The group worries that this would give Northern Ireland a different economic status from Britain and separate it from rest of the country.
“For us, the most important thing is a union,” DUP leader Arlene Foster told RTE television on Friday.
“I don’t make any apologies for that.”
Downing Street said Thursday that “discussions with the DUP are continuing” as the government tries to piece together a majority from a patchwork of conflicting interests.
‘NO. NO. NO…’
Parliament’s own attempt on Wednesday to find a new last-minute Brexit fix ended in failure.
None of the eight options drawn up by various MPs secured a majority and another vote has been set for Monday on the more popular option.
The one that came closest to winning provided for a much closer economic union with the EU after Brexit than what the Conservative party platform allows.
A proposal to hold a second referendum – a popular idea with EU supporters – came second while those promoting a cleaner break finished near the bottom.
“Parliament finally has its say: No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No,” declared The Guardian newspaper’s front page headline.
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