LONDON (AFP) – Prime Minister Theresa May asked MPs Tuesday to give her more time to try and revive her Brexit deal with the EU in what the opposition said was a ploy to “run down the clock”.
May updated parliament following meetings in Belfast, Brussels, and Dublin despite EU leaders’ insistence that they will not renegotiate the deal they had already struck with her.
Deal or no deal, Britain is due to leave the European Union on March 29 and a disorderly exit could cause chaos.
“The talks are at a crucial stage. We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this house requires and deliver Brexit on time,” May told lawmakers.
“Having secured an agreement with the EU for further talks, we now need some time to complete that process,” she said.
The announcement was seen by political commentators as an attempt to defuse any parliamentary rebellion in a series of votes on May’s Brexit strategy to be held on Thursday.
May has promised that parliament would have another chance to vote, on February 27, on what to do if no agreement is reached.
MPs last month overwhelmingly rejected the deal struck between May and Brussels for Britain’s exit from the EU. Ever since, the premier has been trying to secure changes to the accord that would satisfy parliament’s lower House of Commons.
Pro-Brexit MPs in May’s Conservative Party are unhappy particularly with a so-called backstop provision intended to keep the border with Ireland free-flowing.
Some fear it could leave Britain trapped in EU trade rules indefinitely with no withdrawal mechanism.
Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said May had come to parliament Tuesday with “excuses and delays” and accused her of trying to “play chicken with people’s livelihoods”.
“It appears the prime minister has just one real tactic: to run down the clock hoping members of this house are blackmailed into supporting a deeply flawed deal,” he said.
“This is an irresponsible act. She’s playing for time and playing with people’s jobs.”
Plea for time
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said the onus was on the EU to show flexibility.
“It would be an extraordinary outcome if the thing that the backstop is seeking to avoid, which is a hard border in Northern Ireland, if the EU were so determined to be completely intransigent about it that they actually incur the very thing that they’re seeking to avoid by pushing the UK into a position where we leave without a deal,” she told BBC radio.
If no transition deal is in place when Britain leaves the EU, it could trigger economic shockwaves around the continent.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and David Lidington, May’s de facto deputy, met members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg Tuesday while British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was in Paris as part of a diplomatic offensive.
Hunt said he had “open and thoughtful discussions” with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
“Both sides want a Brexit deal that supports ongoing friendship between UK/EU/France so patience and goodwill on backstop now the critical ingredient,” he tweeted.
Pressure on opposition
Meanwhile, students supporting a second referendum urged Corbyn to “get off the fence” on Brexit, in a stunt in his north London constituency.
Many of Labour’s younger, newer supporters who propelled the veteran socialist to the party leadership want to stay in the EU — but many of the seats Labour holds in parliament are in pro-Brexit hotbeds.
“A lot of people have noticed the complete lack of opposition on this,” said Kira Millana Lewis, an 18-year-old student and Labour member.
“We believed in him because we believed he would offer us a brighter future. That isn’t possible outside of the European Union.”