Brexit vote returns to British parliament

Theresa May. File picture
Theresa May. File picture
Image: AFP

British MPs will vote again on Tuesday 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.

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 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 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 fear it is a trap to keep them tied to EU rules.