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WORLD | 27-03-2019 12:45

UK lawmakers prepare to vote on alternatives to Brexit deal

British lawmakers were preparing to vote Wednesday on multiple options for leaving the European Union as they sought to bring some clarity to the country's tortured Brexit process.

Britain's divided Parliament will hold a flurry of votes Wednesday seeking a last-minute alternative to Prime Minister Theresa May's unpopular Brexit plan.

Three years of political turmoil that followed Britain's decision to break its near half-century bond with the European Union were meant to have ended on Friday with the formal completion of the divorce. But no clear end is in sight and May finds herself under unrelenting pressure from both inside and outside her own party to resign.

Lawmakers have twice resoundingly rejected the agreement she concluded with Brussels over 17 months of acrimonious talks. But House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said on Wednesday "there's a real possibility" that May will try again on Thursday or Friday.

"The objectives we should all have is being able to deliver Brexit," May told lawmakers on Wednesday. "A way of granting Brexit is supporting the deal."

May is still desperately short of votes and a third successive defeat would weaken her further.

EU leaders have given Britain an extended deadline of April 12 to get May's deal ratified or find a new way out. Failure to do either could result in the sides splitting without a plan forward – a scenario that frightens the markets and business on both sides of the Channel.

Britain could otherwise seek an even longer extension that would put it in the odd situation of having to take part in European Parliament elections nearly two months after it was supposed to have left.

"The prime minister is failing to deliver Brexit because she can't build a consensus," opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn told the House of Commons. "Either listen and change course or go. Which is it to be?"

16 proposals

Members of Parliament have decided to try to break the deadlock by giving themselves the right to choose from a variety of alternatives to May's plan.

Parliament will vote at 1900 GMT (4pm local time) on options that range from a second referendum to recalling the EU withdrawal notice and maintaining ties with the bloc.

May's own deal is not one of the 16 proposals submitted for debate to House Speaker John Bercow. He will announce the ones that are on the agenda at around 1530 GMT.

Time has been set aside on Monday for MPs to try and whittle down the most popular options to a final plan.

But the motions are non-binding and it will be tough for the House to force May to back any proposal with which she disagrees.

'Better than not leaving'

May will hope none of the alternatives earn majority support and that her own agreement ends up looking like the best option.

Her government is banking on anti-EU rebels getting frightened by the prospect of Brexit being either overturned or watered down. She has already won the backing of Jacob Rees-Mogg – the ultra-conservative who heads the European Research Group (ERG) wing of her party that twice voted against the deal.

"I think we've got to the point where legally leaving is better than not leaving at all," he told BBC radio on Wednesday.

But the small Northern Irish party whose backing May relies on in Parliament said on Tuesday it would rather see Brexit extended by a year than support her deal. Other holdouts are making their votes contingent on May's promise to step down and let another leader negotiate the next stage of the process.

"If the prime minister announces a timetable of departure, I think that's going to swing a lot of people behind her deal, we could get it over the line," said Conservative MP Nigel Evans.

Rethink Brexit?

European leaders are watching the entire process with concern.

European Council President Donald Tusk urged EU lawmakers on Wednesday to remain open to a long postponement while Britain rethinks its stance.

"I said that we should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy, which would of course mean the UK's participation in the European Parliament elections," Tusk said.

He also pointed to the nearly six million signatures on an online petition in the past week asking the government to cancel Brexit.

"They may not feel sufficiently represented by UK Parliament but they must feel represented by you," he told European Parliament members in a tweet.

- TIMES/AFP

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