Brexit row risks ruining PM May’s date with parliament

LONDON (Reuters): British Prime Minister Theresa May could be defeated in parliament on Thursday over her plan to renegotiate the Brexit deal, undermining her pledge to the European Union that, with changes, she can get the agreement approved.

Thursday’s symbolic vote was seen by May’s team as little more than a rubber stamp on her plan to secure changes to the divorce deal with the EU, giving her more time to satisfy lawmakers’ concerns over one part of it – the Irish “backstop”.

But hardline Brexit supporters in her Conservative Party are angry over what they say is her readiness to rule out a no-deal departure. May’s Brexit minister Stephen Barclay again denied this in parliament, noting that, by law, Britain will leave the EU on March 29, with or without an agreement.

The latest twist in the two-year negotiation to leave the EU underlines the deep divisions in parliament over how, or even whether, Britain should leave the bloc – its biggest political and trade policy shift in more than 40 years.

A rebellion, even in a symbolic vote, would hurt May, who has insisted to EU leaders that if they offer her more concessions to the deal agreed in November, she can secure a majority in parliament.

“Colleagues should be in no doubt that the EU will be watching our votes tonight carefully for any sign that our resolve is weakening. We should not give them that excuse not to engage,” Barclay told parliament as he opened the debate. Lawmakers are expected to vote from 1700 GMT.