U.K.’s May to promise new Brexit debate in push for more negotiating time

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By Reuters

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May will pledge this week to give parliament another chance to voice their opinions on Brexit by Feb. 27 as she tries to buy more time to negotiate a new deal with the European Union.

As the clock ticks down to Britain’s scheduled exit from the bloc on March 29, May is trying to persuade the E.U. to change a deal that was agreed between London and Brussels late last year but overwhelmingly rejected by parliament in January.

May wants to win over lawmakers in her Conservative Party with changes relating to the Northern Irish border, but the E.U. has refused to reopen that part of the deal and instead wants May to pursue a compromise with the main opposition Labour Party by agreeing closer U.K.-E.U. ties.

The impasse has left the world’s fifth largest economy facing an uncertain future, rattling financial markets and businesses about the prospect of a disorderly exit from the bloc that could damage the economy.

Housing minster James Brokenshire said on Sunday May would commit to giving parliament another debate on Brexit with the chance to vote on alternative options, if a deal had not yet been agreed and voted upon by then.

May is already due to update parliament on her progress towards a deal on Wednesday and then on Thursday to give parliament a chance to express their opinion. The new pledge would be for a repeat of this process by Feb. 27.

“That gives that sense of timetable, clarity, and purpose on what we’re doing with the E.U. — taking that work forward and our determination to get a deal — but equally knowing that role that parliament very firmly has,” Brokenshire told the BBC.

Brexit minister Stephen Barclay will meet E.U. negotiator Michel Barnier on Monday to discuss changes to the part of the exit deal relating to the ‘backstop,’ an insurance policy against the return of a hard border between E.U. member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.

May will ask lawmakers on Thursday to reaffirm that they support her bid to renegotiate the backstop, a government source said. The backstop is the main obstacle to securing agreement on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

May’s opponents are expected to put forward a series of alternative approaches which will be voted upon, although it is not clear yet whether any will have sufficient support to pass, and if they do, whether they will force the government to act.

The head of business lobby group the Confederation of British Industry, meanwhile, warned that the chances of Britain leaving the E.U. next month without a deal have increased and the country has now entered “the emergency zone.”

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