6 June 2024

British Prime Minister Theresa May won a few weeks to salvage a Brexit deal but headed toward a clash with the European Union by promising to overhaul the divorce agreement she spent a year and a half negotiating with the bloc.

British Prime Minister Theresa May won parliament’s backing on Tuesday to renegotiate her Brexit deal – a major policy reversal that sets up a new standoff with the European Union after it ruled out any change.

May’s dramatic decision to abandon a pact she herself sealed with the 27 EU leaders at a summit last month came with Britain on course to crash out of the bloc in political and economic chaos on March 29.

The pound stabilised in early Asian trade on Wednesday after falling sharply on fears of a no-deal scenario as MPs voted through an amendment saying they would only support a divorce deal if its controversial “backstop” clause to keep the Irish border open was removed.

A spokesman for EU leader Donald Tusk said the deal was “not open for renegotiation” while French President Emmanuel Macron said it was the “best agreement possible”.

MPs also voted in favour of a non-binding measure that “rejects the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement”.

But they failed to vote through a more important plan – backed by European supporters – that would have tried to force through a Brexit delay if no new deal with the EU emerged by February 26.

“I agree that we should not leave without a deal. However, simply opposing no-deal is not enough to stop it,” May told MPs.

“The government will now redouble its efforts to get a deal that this house can support.”

After the votes, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was ready to meet May to discuss a “sensible Brexit solution that works for the whole country”.

“After months of refusing to take the chaos of no-deal off the table, the prime minister must now face the reality that no-deal is not an option,” he said.

May now faces a formidable challenge convincing Brussels to re-open talks that took 18 excruciating months to conclude.

She said parliament’s approval of the backstop amendment gave her the “mandate” to “seek to obtain legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement”.

But she conceded that there was “limited appetite” in the EU for renegotiation.

“It won’t be easy,” said May. “But in contrast to a fortnight ago, this house has made it clear what it needs to approve the withdrawal agreement.”