British PM to make final drive to pass Brexit deal

Europe urges Britain to choose a path after nearly three years of indecision

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 27: (EDITORS NOTE: THIS BLACK AND WHITE IMAGE WAS CREATED FROM ORIGINAL COLOUR FILE) British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Parliament on March 27, 2019 in London, England. MPs in the House of Commons voted on alternative plans for Brexit this evening. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
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On the day Britain was originally scheduled to leave the EU, Theresa May’s government has lined up a last ditch attempt to secure parliamentary approval for her exit deal during a sitting on Friday.

They will discuss and vote on the withdrawal agreement, which includes citizens' rights, the divorce bill and the Irish backstop, but not the political declaration, which sets out the future relationship between Britain and the EU.

If supported by a majority in Parliament, Britain's departure from the bloc will be pushed back until May 22.

If it is rejected, Britain could still crash out of the EU without a deal, on April 12.

Mrs May's overall deal was defeated twice, with the first being the largest parliamentary defeat in history, and the prospect of success remains remote.

Messages from European leaders indicated growing concern that Britain could be forced out without a safety net if the wrangling is not resolved.

Indicative votes designed to break the deadlock on Wednesday failed to provide a clear indication of the will of parliamentarians. The chamber failed to reach a majority on any alternative to the prime minister's deal.

Despite putting her political future on the line, Mrs May's last ditch attempt to get her deal through failed to move hard-line Brexiteers and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which helps to prop up the government.

The head of the DUP, Arlene Foster, said her 10 MPs would vote against the prime minister's deal.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also remained steadfastly against Mrs May's deal, despite a 20-minute phone call with the prime minister on Thursday.

“Jeremy made it clear Labour will not agree to a blindfold Brexit to force through Theresa May’s damaging deal, which would leave the next Tory party leader free to rip up essential rights and protections and undermine jobs and living standards," a spokesman said.

Sterling plunged nearly one per cent against the dollar and euro amid fears of a no-deal Brexit.

David Cameron, the former Conservative prime minister, called on Mrs May to take a new, more conciliatory tack by incorporating positions she had previously ruled out.

Mr Cameron said that Parliament was split four ways between her supporters, backers of a no-deal, second referendum advocates and those that wanted a closer relationship with Europe.

“The government has to try to find a way of getting at least two of those groups to work together, to combine their options, to compromise,” he said.

Speaker of the House John Bercow announces the results of the vote on alternative Brexit options in Parliament in London, Britain, March 27, 2019 in this screen grab taken from video. Reuters TV via REUTERS

The architect behind the indicative votes, Oliver Letwin, said on Thursday that a no-deal Brexit now looked like the most likely scenario.

But Mr Letwin said that a second stage of the indicative vote process on Monday could provide an alternative to the looming no-deal exit.

Although none of the eight options gained a majority in the chamber on Wednesday, those for a “permanent and comprehensive UK-wide Customs union with the EU” and a confirmatory referendum on whatever deal parliament passes came close.

House Speaker John Bercow said there was no reason that debate over the options could not continue on Monday.

“I think that at some point or other we either have to get a deal across the line or accept that we have to find an alternative if we want to avoid no deal on April 12, which I think at the moment is the most likely thing to happen,” said Mr Bercow, a Conservative.

Other options on the table include a second referendum or a general election, but that would require a longer extension to the Brexit deadline.

On March 22, EU leaders offered to extend the divorce deadline from March 29 to May 22, if Mrs May's deal were backed by parliament.

Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian Chancellor, was one of the Europeans expressing concern.

“A hard Brexit that is disorderly would hurt the EU but it would hurt Great Britain much more and therefore must be avoided,” Mr Kurz said.

“As the EU 27, we continue to hope for approval of the withdrawal agreement.”

MPs voted to change the date of Brexit, with a result of 441 votes to 105.

Mr Bercow said on Wednesday that he would not allow a third vote on the PM's deal until it was changed.