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May’s divorce deal back from the dead

EU leaders urge clarity from Britain before Brexit delay

March 16, 2019 00:00:00

British Prime Minister Theresa May

LONDON, Mar 15 (AFP): British Prime Minister Theresa May's EU withdrawal agreement could yet return from the dead if hardcore Brexiteers fear a delay could produce a softer Brexit than the deal they despise.

The divorce deal was rejected by a thumping majority in parliament in January, and again by a lesser, but still overwhelming margin on Tuesday.

But May is set to bring it back from the grave for a third vote by Wednesday, hoping that Brexiteers will finally blink when faced with the alternatives.

MPs on Thursday authorised May to seek a delay to Brexit from March 29 until June 30 -- or longer if no deal can be agreed in the coming days.

The prospect of a postponed, watered-down or even cancelled Brexit via another referendum is sharpening minds. Some anti-deal figureheads-notably former Brexit secretary David Davis-have already switched course, backing the withdrawal agreement on Tuesday in fear of worse.

Because Brexiteers who have not backed May's deal "are faced with this increasingly clear choice of a longer extension, the government hopes that Mrs May's deal becomes increasingly attractive to those MPs", said Alan Wager, a research associate at King's College London.

Meanwhile, EU leaders on Friday called for clarity from Britain before considering any delay to Brexit after a series of chaotic votes by MPs just two weeks before the deeply divided country is due to leave the bloc.

Quitting the EU after 46 years on March 29 remains the legal default unless EU leaders unanimously grant Britain an extension, with the issue likely to dominate a March 21-22 EU summit in Brussels. The length of any possible delay will depend on the outcome of another parliamentary vote on the twice massively rejected Brexit deal struck by Prime Minister Theresa May with EU leaders.

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