British Prime Minister Theresa May (pictured) called on Parliament to send a unified message to Brussels to rip open the Brexit agreement or watch chaos unfold as the UK splits away from the bloc without a deal.
She made a bold pitch to win votes from her own Conservative Party, by siding with a hardline plan to scrap the most contentious part of the divorce accord she spent 18 months negotiating: the backstop plan for the Irish border. She also went further in her efforts to secure the backing of Tories, partially endorsing a compromise proposal the warring factions of the party had worked up between them.
Her intervention was designed to ensure that the House of Commons takes a decisive step later on Tuesday and votes to say exactly what it wants to change in the Brexit deal.
With just eight weeks left before the UK exits the bloc — and the existing agreement in tatters — May appealed to the Commons to give her some solid demands to put to Brussels. But it could go either way: by the end of Tuesday, May could have won a new mandate for negotiating with the EU, or she could have lost control of the Brexit process to Parliament.
“I will never stop battling for Britain, but the odds of success become much longer if this House ties one hand behind my back,” the premier told Parliament. “I call on this House to give me the mandate I need to deliver a deal this House can support.”
Unless May and the EU can agree on a plan -- and get it through the British and European parliaments -- the UK will tumble out of the bloc on March 29 without a deal, risking a recession in Britain and a hit to house prices and the pound. But their task remains formidable, with European officials unlikely to agree to new British demands.
May spoke to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker before she addressed Parliament. A person familiar with the conversation said Juncker warned May that the bloc will not re-negotiate the Withdrawal Agreement -- even if the Commons calls for it in a vote.
But May thinks the EU will have to reopen the exit accord if the bloc wants to avoid the disruption of a no-deal split.