May pon­ders dash to2018 Brus­sels in search of de­lay to save her deal

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - NEWS - By Harry Cole and Bren­dan Car­lin By 1-75 By 76 or more

THERESA MAY was last night ‘wargam­ing’ a plan to can­cel this week’s Bri­tish Com­mons vote on Brexit and make a des­per­ate dash to Brus­sels to seek fur­ther con­ces­sions from the Euro­pean Union.

The Ir­ish Mail on Sun­day un­der­stands the EU is pre­pared to of­fer Bri­tain a six-week ex­ten­sion to the two-year Ar­ti­cle 50 exit process. But se­nior EU politi­cians have warned Down­ing Street there is ‘zero chance’ of re­open­ing the text of the With­drawal Agree­ment.

The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment is in­stead fo­cus­ing on seek­ing ad­di­tional legally bind­ing pro­to­cols to try to wa­ter down the con­tro­ver­sial North­ern Ire­land back­stop.

Af­ter a fu­ri­ous back­lash from her cabi­net col­leagues and her aides, Mrs May has warned her war­ring party that if they vote down her Brexit deal they risk hand­ing the coun­try to Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn – and be­ing stuck per­ma­nently in the EU.

Dozens of Tory MPs have threat­ened to rebel in Tues­day’s his­toric Com­mons vote on her Brexit deal.

Mrs May, who says she has re­ceived thou­sands of mes­sages of sup­port from vot­ers, is try­ing to avert re­bel­lion by ‘weapon­is­ing’ the prospect of Mr Cor­byn be­com­ing prime minister. She said Bri­tain ‘would truly be in un­charted wa­ters’ if the deal is voted down.

Such is the scale of the ex­pected re­volt – more than 100 Tories, by some es­ti­mates – that a grow­ing num­ber of se­nior gov­ern­ment fig­ures are urg­ing Mrs May to de­lay the vote and em­bark on a fi­nal bid to secure last-ditch con­ces­sions from Brus­sels this week. She is con­sid­er­ing her op­tions and how they might play out. One sce­nario is to call off the Com­mons vote and in­stead travel to Brus­sels on Tues­day. There she would warn the EU that its cur­rent deal would not get through the Bri­tish parliament and seek more con­ces­sions. Last night, one of her al­lies said: ‘Los­ing the vote is a ter­ri­ble look and pulling it is a ter­ri­ble look, there is no deny­ing that. Ei­ther way, she’s go­ing back to Brus­sels.’

How­ever, pulling the vote would re­move the risk of op­po­si­tion amend­ments al­low­ing parliament to seize con­trol of ne­go­ti­a­tions, plung­ing the Christ­mas pe­riod into chaos and rais­ing the prospect of a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum.

Diplo­matic sources in Brus­sels said EU Coun­cil le­gal boss Hu­bert Le­gal has drawn up se­cret plans to give Bri­tain enough time to hold a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum be­fore exit day in March. Mrs May is due to at­tend the EU Coun­cil in the Bel­gian cap­i­tal on Thurs­day, but aides have warned her that if she goes early with­out putting the deal to MPs, the EU will not take her se­ri­ously.

Mean­while, Mr Cor­byn is still de­cid­ing whether to ta­ble a no-con­fi­dence mo­tion against the gov­ern­ment should Mrs May lose the key Brexit vote. Labour bosses fear that as DUP MPs have said they won’t sup­port a no-con­fi­dence mo­tion in those cir­cum­stances, Labour can­not win it.

How­ever, Labour MPs back­ing a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum are pil­ing pres­sure on Mr Cor­byn to go ahead with a no-con­fi­dence vote, even if it looks set to fail. Be­cause if it does, the party will be committed to call for a so-called ‘peo­ple’s vote’ as the only way to stop Brexit on Tory terms.

A source in his of­fice said: ‘The tim­ing of a no-con­fi­dence mo­tion is a tac­ti­cal de­ci­sion to best achieve an elec­tion.

‘Those pub­licly lob­by­ing for this op­tion or that op­tion aren’t fol­low­ing our pol­icy of pre­fer­ring an elec­tion to sort out Brexit.’

‘Los­ing the vote is a ter­ri­ble look’

des­per­ate: Theresa May might call off Brexit vote

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