May's lawyer leaves her without a backstop

Geraldine Edwards
March 13, 2019

May has secured "legally binding changes" which improve the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, who May's de facto deputy, told the British parliament.

They have said the deal needs "careful analysis", and added that they will scrutinise the text "line by line" before forming a judgment.

May promised to hold two more votes in the coming days.

If her deal is rejected, lawmakers will be able to vote on Wednesday and Thursday on whether they want to leave the bloc without a deal or ask for a delay to Brexit beyond March 29 - all but wresting control of Brexit from the government.

Britain's House of Commons overwhelmingly defeated the deal in January and was expected to do so again on Tuesday without meaningful change.

MPs are due to vote on it again tomorrow (local time).

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"The clock is truly run down, the can kicked and squashed, the road has run out", she said, warning that MPs were ready to try to wrestle control of the process.

It would also raise the possibility of a delay to Brexit, with further votes on leaving without a deal and postponing Britain's departure date set for later in the week if May's deal falls. If that option is voted down as well, the legislature will consider extending the Brexit deadline, now set for 29 March.

However on Tuesday the signs for Theresa May were not good as Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox published his legal advice on the new deal.

"If this deal is not passed then Brexit could be lost", May said, her voice ragged after days of frantic shuttle diplomacy.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives back at the Houses of Parliament in London, March 12, 2019.

With just 17 days left until the United Kingdom's scheduled departure date, talks have been stuck on the same issue that has blocked progress for the past year: the backup plan meant to ensure there's never any need for customs checks at the land border between Ireland and the United Kingdom.

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Geoffrey Cox says the changes "reduce the risk that the United Kingdom could be indefinitely and involuntarily detained" in a part of the withdrawal agreement known as the backstop.

Supporters of Brexit say while the divorce might bring some short-term instability, in the longer term it will allow the United Kingdom to thrive and also enable deeper European Union integration without such a powerful reluctant member.

Speaking immediately after the vote, Ms May said she profoundly regretted the decision the House had taken.

It is nearly certain that an unchanged withdrawal agreement would be defeated in the Commons, with a large eurosceptic faction of the Conservative party itself and the Demo¬cratic Unionist Party, which props up May's minority government, all set to say nay.

The House of Commons is due to vote later on the divorce deal, a day after talks with the European Union produced promises that a contentious section of the agreement couldn't be used to tie Britain to the bloc indefinitely - and less than three weeks before Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29.

Talks will continue in Brussels but without a major breakthrough, May looks set to lose her second attempt to get lawmaker's approval and smooth Britain's exit from the European Union, its biggest shift in trade and foreign policy in more than 40 years.

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The main opposition Labour Party also maintained its opposition to the deal.

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