British PM May postpones 'meaningful vote' on Brexit plan

Theresa May pushes back 'meaningful vote' on Brexit plan as talks with EU counterparts over divorce deal continue.

    Theresa May's proposed Brexit deal has met opposition from across Britain's political spectrum [File: Simon Dawson/Reuters]
    Theresa May's proposed Brexit deal has met opposition from across Britain's political spectrum [File: Simon Dawson/Reuters]

    British Prime Minister Theresa May has postponed an expected "meaningful vote" on her widely maligned Brexit plan this week, saying MPs may have to wait until March 12 to have their say on the divorce deal.

    Speaking to reporters before travelling to a European Union-Arab League summit in Egypt, May said on Sunday her Brexit negotiation team would continue talks with EU officials in a bid to secure a deal palatable to British legislators, ruling out a vote this week.

    "We won't bring a meaningful vote to parliament this week but we will ensure that that happens by the 12th of March," May said.

    "It is still within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on the 29th of March and that is what we are working to do," she added.

    May had been expected to put her proposed divorce deal to a vote in the UK's lower chamber House of Commons on Wednesday. 

    Opposition slams 'irresponsible' PM

    The latest delay comes after her Brexit plan was resoundingly defeated last month by 230 MPs - the biggest parliamentary defeat in British history - and underlines the difficulty May is having in attempting to get the agreement ratified.

    Reacting to May's announcement, the main opposition Labour Party accused the British leader of "recklessly running down the clock in a desperate attempt to force MPs to choose between her deal and no deal".

    "This decision to further delay the meaningful vote is the height of irresponsibility... Parliament cannot stand by and allow this happen," Labour's Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer said in a tweet.

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    Starmer's comments were followed by a pledge from Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to work with other parties' MPs to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

    " Theresa May is putting the country at risk by recklessly running down the clock to force MPs to choose between her bad deal and a disastrous no deal," Corbyn said in a tweet.

    "Labour will work with MPs across the Commons to prevent no deal, break the deadlock and build support for our alternative plan," he added.

    On Sunday, May also rejected calls from members of her own cabinet to extend Article 50 - the exit clause in the EU's constitution - should she lose the rescheduled vote on her withdrawal plan in the House of Commons next month, saying it would not solve the ongoing impasse shrouding British politics.

    Three of the May's cabinet ministers suggested on Saturday they would break with the British prime minister and back amendments to delay Brexit unless a deal is agreed in the next week.

    The three - Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, Business Secretary Greg Clark and Justice Secretary David Gauke - said they want a deal to be reached in the coming days but are worried about opposition from other MPs.

    "Too many of our parliamentary colleagues appear complacent about the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal," the trio wrote in an article published in Britain's Daily Mail newspaper on Saturday.

    Backstop sticking point

    With just 33 days until Britain is due to leave the 28-member EU, May is making last-ditch efforts to win concessions from the bloc on the divorce package, brokered after months of arduous negotiations between London and Brussels.

    The EU has ruled out reopening the withdrawal agreement, though both sides are looking at a possible legal addendum to reassure MPs who worry the controversial Irish border backstop clause could keep Britain trapped in the EU's orbit for years to come.

    The mechanism would guarantee no re-establishment of a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event that post-Brexit trade negotiations between the UK and the EU prove unsuccessful.

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    May's environment minister, Michael Gove, said on Sunday that "progress" was being made in attempts to secure changes to the backstop clause.

    "It could be a time limit, I think it could be a unilateral exit mechanism. I think these things are possible and I think it could be another legally powerful protocol or addition to the treaty, which makes it clear that we would not be bound in the backstop indefinitely against our will," said Gove.

    The ongoing unrest over Britain's bid to depart the EU marks the country's deepest political crisis in decades after nearly 52 percent of Britons - more than 17 million people - voted to leave the EU during the UK's June 2016 referendum.

    Both of the country's major parties fractured last week, with parliamentarians quitting May's ruling Conservative Party and the main opposition Labour Party suggesting both were failed remnants of a political system in meltdown.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies