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Third time lucky? Theresa May seeks support in new bid for Brexit deal

The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29, but even if the agreement is passed next week, the exit date will need to be extended to allow time to pass the necessary legislation.

world Updated: Mar 17, 2019 20:35 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
UK,Brexit,Theresa May
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday warned rebel MPs that failure to pass the Brexit agreement next week would mean the UK not leaving the European Union for many months.(REUTERS)

If renewed talks with rebel Conservative MPs and other allies succeed, Prime Minister Theresa May will introduce the EU withdrawal agreement for the third time in the House of Commons next week, hoping it will pass before the European Council summit on Thursday.

May is due attend what could be her last summit as leader of an EU member-state. The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29, but even if the agreement is passed next week, the exit date will need to be extended to allow time to pass the necessary legislation.

Seeking an ‘honourable compromise’, May on Sunday told rebel MPs that failure to pass the agreement next week would mean the UK not leaving the European Union “for many months, if ever”. Ministers said the agreement may not be re-introduced if minds do not change soon.

Also read: Brexit deal rejected second time, triggers call for new approach

Chancellor Philip Hammond said Sunday morning that even if the agreement musters a majority, a short extension will be needed: “It is physically impossible to leave on 29 March, but we would be able to leave very soon”.

“But if we are unable to do that - if we are unable to bring a majority together to support what in my view is a very good deal for Britain - then we will have to look at a longer extension and we are in uncharted territory,” he told BBC.

Asked if a vote would be sought on the agreement next week, he said it would depend on the growth in support from among the MPs who voted against it in January and last week, including the Democratic Unionist Party that is propping up the minority May government.

“We will only bring the deal back if we are confident that enough of our colleagues and the DUP are prepared to support it so we can get it through Parliament. We are not just going to keep presenting it if we haven’t moved the dial,” Hammond added.

Also read: PM Theresa May faces challenge despite securing key Brexit changes

Holding the prospect of Brexit not happening at all, May has been meeting groups of MPs and used an article in The Sunday Telegraph to try and change minds. Some rebels have indicated they would now support the agreement by “holding the nose”, if only to ensure the UK leaves the EU on the due date of March 29.

The opposition Labour has been working to seek support for the idea that the agreement could be supported subject to a new ‘confirmatory referendum’.

May wrote that it would be a “potent symbol of Parliament’s collective political failure” if a delay to Brexit meant the UK was forced to take part in elections to the European Parliament in May, nearly three years after voting to leave the EU.

May admitted that she had more to do to convince rebel MPs in her party and outside to support the agreement, including the DUP: “I am convinced that the time to define ourselves by how we voted in 2016 must now end”.

“We can only put those old labels aside if we stand together as democrats and patriots, pragmatically making the honourable compromises necessary to heal division and move forward.”

First Published: Mar 17, 2019 19:35 IST