British PM scrambles to avoid chaotic Brexit finale
Britain’s government redoubled its efforts Thursday to win over the main opposition party in a last-gasp bid to avoid a chaotic exit from the European Union next week.
The latest round of talks came after lawmakers tried to safeguard against a doomsday ending to the 46-year partnership by fast-tracking a bill Wednesday night seeking to delay Brexit.
May is racing against the clock in a desperate search for votes that could push her ill-loved divorce deal with the other 27 EU leaders through parliament on the fourth attempt.
May’s spokesman said there would be “intensive discussions over the course of today”, noting the “urgency” of the situation.
Britain’s latest deadline is April 12 and resistance to May’s plan remains passionately strong.
But increasingly weary EU leaders — tired of Britain’s political drama and eager to focus on Europe’s own problems — want to see either a done deal or a new way forward from May before they all meet in Brussels on Wednesday.
Her European counterparts will decide whether to grant May’s request to push back Brexit until May 22 — the day before nations begin electing a new European Parliament.
One alternative is to force her to accept a much longer extension that could give Britain time to rethink Brexit and possibly reverse its decision to leave.
The other is to let Britain go without a deal on April 12 in the hope that the economic disruption is short-lived and worth the price of eliminating long-term Brexit uncertainties.
‘Sense of resignation’
May dramatically ended her courtship of her own party’s holdouts and resistant Northern Irish allies by turning to the main opposition Labour Party this week.
The premier met Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday for a reported 100 minutes of talks both sides described as “cordial” but inconclusive.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday welcomed the cross-party effort to resolved the deadlock.
“It’s time for decisions,” he tweeted.
But May’s decision to hear out Corbyn’s demands for a closer post-Brexit alliance with the bloc that includes membership in its customs union has enraged Britain’s right-wing and seen two junior ministers resign.
One senior minister said May had no other choice.
“It’s very simple — there’s nowhere else to go,” the unnamed cabinet minister told the news website Politico.
“There’s a sense of resignation about her that ‘we get this through and I take the flak’.”
Pro-European members of May’s team also insisted that it was time to compromise on long-standing political beliefs for the benefit of safe resolution of Britain’s biggest crisis in decades.
“Both parties have to give something up,” finance minister Philip Hammond told ITV.
“There is going to be pain on both sides.”
May and Corbyn have competing visions of Britain’s place in Europe and neither has shown much willingness to compromise in the past.
Corbyn said late Wednesday that he did not see “as much change as I expected” from May.
The Times newspaper quoted an unnamed government source as saying that May’s office thought it more likely than not that the negotiations would fail.
May has resisted the customs union idea because it bars Britain from striking its own independent trade agreements with nations such as China and the United States.
And Corbyn is under pressure from Labour’s pro-EU wing to push for a second referendum that would pit May’s final deal against the option of staying in the bloc.
Corbyn has shied away from backing another vote due in part to his own sceptical view of Brussels.
The Labour-backing Mirror newspaper said May and Corbyn would let their teams negotiate Thursday before deciding on whether to meet again face to face Friday.