LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday postponed a parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal to seek more concessions but the European Union refused to renegotiate and lawmakers doubted her chances of winning big changes.
May’s abrupt move less than 30 hours before parliament was to vote opens up a range of possibilities from a Brexit without a deal, a last-minute agreement or another EU referendum.
Admitting she faced defeat on Britain’s potentially biggest political and economic shift since World War Two, May was laughed at by some lawmakers when she said there was broad support for key aspects of her deal reached with the EU last month.
However, “If we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow, the deal would be rejected by a significant margin,” she told parliament of the agreement she clinched after 18 months of tortuous negotiations.
With her position in jeopardy, May said she would now go back to the EU and seek reassurances over the so-called Irish “backstop”, an insurance policy to ensure no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.
She questioned whether parliament was trying to frustrate the democratic will of Britons to leave the EU and warned that without agreement the world’s fifth largest economy would leave on March 29 without a deal.
The EU reacted coolly, with European Council President Donald Tusk saying it was ready to discuss how to smooth ratification, but that neither the withdrawal agreement nor the Irish backstop would be renegotiated.
“As time is running out, we will also discuss our preparedness for a no-deal scenario,” Tusk said. Brexit will be discussed at a previously scheduled EU summit on Dec. 13-14.
Sterling GBP=D3 skidded to its weakest level since April 2017, falling to $1.2507. It was trading at $1.50 on the day of the 2016 Brexit referendum. Yields on U.S. 10-year bonds dropped to the lowest since late August. (Excerpts from Reuters)