London, March 10: British MPs will on Tuesday vote again on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal, making the historic decision whether to back her plan or risk a chaotic exit from the EU in less than three weeks time. Two months ago, the House of Commons rejected the withdrawal agreement by a huge majority, and sent May back to renegotiate.
But European Union leaders have rejected her demands as impossible, and without a breakthrough in the next 24 hours, some MPs have warned another defeat is "inevitable". Unless it negotiates a delay, Britain would then be on course to leave the EU after 46 years of membership with no plan on March 29, causing huge disruption on both sides. Theresa May’s Brexit Deal Rejected by MPs in Parliament Vote.
British and European officials have continued their talks this weekend, and May is ready to make a last-minute visit to Brussels if needed. In the absence of visible progress, she has sought to remind MPs of the stakes involved in rejecting her divorce agreement. "Back it and the UK will leave the European Union. Reject it and no one knows what will happen," she said in a speech on Friday. "We may not leave the EU for many months. We may leave without the protections that the deal provides. We may never leave at all."
A threatened cabinet revolt over the risks of leaving with no deal forced May to agree that MPs would be able to vote on Thursday on delaying Brexit, if her agreement is rejected. But foreign minister Jeremy Hunt warned on Sunday that any delay would only help those seeking to keep Britain in the EU by holding another referendum. "There is a risk and possibility that we end up losing Brexit if we get the votes wrong in the next couple of weeks," he told the BBC.
Speaking in Grimsby, a North Sea fishing port that voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum, May asked Brussels for "one more push" to get an agreement. "The decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote," she said. The talks are focused on the so-called backstop, an arrangement in the Brexit deal intended to keep the Irish border open.
It would keep Britain in the EU's customs union and parts of its single market until and unless another way -- such as a trade deal -- is found to avoid frontier checks. Many MPs fear it is a trap to keep them tied to EU rules, but Brussels has rejected calls for a time limit or unilateral way out of the backstop arrangement. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier repeated on Friday that the bloc could offer a legally binding statement confirming the backstop was only meant to be temporary. But this is unlikely to be enough to convince May's critics in the Commons, which rejected the deal by 432 votes to 202 in January.
"It is inevitable this unchanged withdrawal agreement will be voted down again," two senior Brexit-supporting MPs, Conservative Steve Baker and Nigel Dodds of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), warned on Sunday. May has been wooing opposition Labour MPs with promises of protection for workers' rights and new funds for poor towns, but the Labour party leadership remains against her deal.
If the prime minister loses on Tuesday, MPs are expected to vote against a "no deal" exit on Wednesday, paving the way for the vote on delaying Brexit on Thursday. May is offering the possibility of a "short, limited" delay, but is herself opposed, warning that eventually MPs will have to make a decision about Britain's future. Any delay would also have to be approved by the other 27 EU leaders, who are next meeting at a Brussels summit on March 21-22 -- a week before Brexit day. Labour has said it would back a delay of a few months, during which it will try to persuade MPs to back its alternative plan for an EU-UK customs union after Brexit.
Labour's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer confirmed it would not put forward a plan for a second referendum on Tuesday, but repeated that it reserved the right to do this at a later date.