Britain's May lays out Brexit survival plans

Monday, March 25, 2019

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LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her Brexit survival strategy to her disgruntled ministers Monday as Britain entered the week it was meant to leave the European Union with its government in crisis.

Britain is still no closer to figuring out how it intends to split off from the other 27 EU nations than it was when voters narrowly backed Brexit in a divisive 2016 national poll.

All the options are back on the table after May's deal twice failed to win parliamentary support by resounding margins.

Anxious EU leaders agreed last week to delay Brexit's March 29 deadline and give Britain until April 12 to figure out how it intends to avoid simply crashing out of the bloc.

The EU ramped up the pressure on Monday, saying it had completed no-deal preparations as this outcome on April 12 was looking "increasingly likely".

May outlined her plans to top ministers Monday before chairing a special meeting of the cabinet that followed a weekend of UK media reports about an attempted government coup.

"Time's up, Theresa," The Sun tabloid, Britain's most widely read newspaper, declared in a front-page headline Monday.

May huddled on Sunday with several of the reported plotters at her Chequers country residence.

Most of them are Brexit backers who fear the terms of Britain's departure being watered down — or even reversed — down the line.

"Theresa May is the chicken who bottled Brexit," former foreign minister Boris Johnson — May's great critic and eternal leadership rival -- wrote in a weekly column for The Telegraph.

"It is time for the PM to channel the spirit of Moses in Exodus, and say to Pharaoh in Brussels – LET MY PEOPLE GO."

- 'Disastrous position' -

How May intends to go about saving both Brexit and her leadership should become more apparent when she speaks in parliament Monday afternoon.

Media reports said she will offer lawmakers to vote on an array of Brexit options that include Britain maintaining much closer trade ties with the European Union than those written into her deal.

Other alternatives include holding a second Brexit referendum and even revoking Article 50 -- the notice London sent Brussels about its intention to leave.

"I think we will see today that there is a mood in the House of Commons to stop us leaving without a deal, even if that means no Brexit," International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told BBC radio.

"I think that is a constitutionally disastrous position."

The prospect of a softer form of Brexit could theoretically push Brexit hardliners into supporting May's current deal.

But May herself admits that she is nowhere near to securing the votes needed to finally get her Brexit deal over the line.

It is not entirely clear when — or even if — she will go for a third vote.

"As the prime minister has said, there wouldn't be much point bringing a vote back to the house that clearly we were going to lose," Fox said Monday.

What happens to her premiership if parliament rallies around a more EU-friendly Brexit alternative that contradicts her policies is unclear.

- Parliamentary control -

Brexit should happen on May 22 if the premier's deal somehow prevails.

But parliament could still get a chance to have its say on alternative options on Wednesday if an initial vote by MPs later on Monday goes through.

Whatever lawmakers decide on would not be binding — but it would put enormous pressure on May.

Parliament is most likely to rally around the idea of keeping Britain in a customs union with the European Union or its single market.

Both of those policies contradict May's position.

A customs union would keep Britain from striking its own trade agreements with non-EU countries.

A single market would require the government to go back on May's promise to regain control of Britain's borders and migration policy.

But some of May's most senior minister said they would support any options that ensures Britain leaves the EU with a deal.

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