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 Nur Aisha Abd. Wahab
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 The Star Online
 Brexit heads for delay as May tries to scare up support for deal

The Star Online (15/03/2019) - LONDON: The UK is on course to delay Brexit and open the door to a radical re-write of the terms of its divorce from the European Union after recoiling from an economically disastrous no-deal split.

The pound climbed to its highest level since June after Parliament on Wednesday evening rejected leaving the EU after 46 years without an agreement in place to keep trade flowing. Legislators will now vote on a postponement to the current March 29 deadline.

With the country in limbo and politicians deadlocked, Wednesday was another chaotic day in London that clarified what most parliamentarians don’t want but has done nothing to suggest what kind of Brexit a majority might support.

It leaves Prime Minister Theresa May still fighting for her Brexit deal, with a third attempt to get it through Parliament likely next week. That’s even after she suffered a major rebellion from her Conservative Party that included members of her own cabinet, lost two big votes, saw a minister resign, and ended up warning that Brexit could be delayed for many months.

Struggling to keep her voice because of an illness, May pulled out of the debate. When she did speak - after the House of Commons eventually voted 321 to 278 to reject leaving the EU with no deal - she wasn’t happy: “The House needs to face up to the consequences of the decisions it has taken.”

It is almost three years since Britain voted to cancel its membership of the EU and with a little over two weeks to go until exit day, May has failed to get an agreement that can get through Parliament.

The prime minister’s preferred deal, which took two years to negotiate, was resoundingly rejected by the Commons for the second time in a vote on Tuesday night. Now, members have decided to avoid leaving the bloc without a deal.

The question is, what kind of plan will Parliament vote for, and how much longer do Britain’s politicians need to make up their minds?

“The legal default in UK and EU law remains that the UK will leave the EU without a deal unless something else is agreed,” May told the Commons after the vote on Wednesday. “The onus is now on every one of us in this House to find out what that is.”

May said if a deal could be agreed to in the next seven days, she would ask the EU for a short “technical” extension. If there’s no deal by March 20 - the eve of the next summit of European leaders - the delay would be much longer, she said.

That will mean the UK taking part in European Parliament elections in May, something the prime minister said would not be “right.”

May’s warning of a long postponement - which is included in the wording of the motion for debate yesterday - is a tactic aimed at persuading pro-Brexit Conservatives and their allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to back a deal before it’s too late.

A long delay would potentially clear a path for a second referendum, which could overturn the result of the first.

“The effort to turn a necessary and sensible extension to the Brexit deadline into a bogeyman that will scare MPs back into line is both irresponsible and unedifying,” said Guto Bebb, a Tory who quit as a minster over May’s Brexit policy. The tactic should be treated with “contempt,” said Bebb, who backs a re-run of the public vote.

The DUP is in talks with attorney-general Geoffrey Cox, who’s aiming to allay their concerns about the Irish border backstop, according to a person familiar with the matter.

But after Wednesday’s votes, May will struggle to persuade Conservative euro-skeptics to do what she tells them to. Four pro-EU cabinet ministers - David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Mundell - all defied the premier’s orders and abstained instead of voting against a rebel motion designed to rule out a no-deal Brexit more firmly than her own proposal. They were joined by a bevy of junior ministers.

May lost the battle, after 43 Conservative members of Parliament either voted against her or abstained in the crucial vote at the end of the night. May’s office suggested ministers who abstained wouldn’t be forced to quit, another sign that the premier’s ability to command her own party is growing weaker by the day.

Earlier on, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond also appeared to stray from the government line by saying yesterday’s vote represented an “opportunity” to start building a cross-party consensus on the way forward.

Steve Baker, a leading pro-Brexit Conservative, insisted his colleagues will not give in to May’s tactics and would never support her proposed agreement. “The deal is so rotten we were right to vote it down, and come what may we will continue to do so,” Baker said. — Bloomberg