UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday asked for even more time to renegotiate her Brexit deal and sparked outrage by suggesting parliament may not be able to vote on the text until just 17 days before Britain is due to leave the European Union.
Business leaders and MPs reacted with anger and dismay, prompting fresh calls to delay Brexit to avoid a potentially disastrous “no deal” exit on March 29.
Three of May’s ministers had earlier warned that the House of Commons would seek a delay if there was no breakthrough this week.
May had raised the possibility of a vote on her deal in the coming days but said on Sunday she was still negotiating with the EU.
“As we’re continuing with those talks, we won’t bring a meaningful vote to parliament this week,” she said at a summit of European and Arab leaders in Egypt.
“But that will happen by March 12. And we still have it within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on March 29.”
Lawmakers last month rejected her withdrawal deal, and since then, May has tried to address their concerns about its so-called “backstop” plan for the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
She met with European Council chief Donald Tusk in Sharm el-Sheikh and will also hold talks at the summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while her team will return to Brussels on Tuesday.
But Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, said her move was “the height of irresponsibility and an admission of failure.”
“Theresa May is recklessly running down the clock in a desperate attempt to force MPs to choose between her deal and no deal,” he said.
Business leaders are also worried.
“This is the latest signal to businesses that no-deal is hurtling closer. It must be averted,” said Josh Hardie, deputy director general of the CBI lobby group.
Adam Marshall of the British Chambers of Commerce added: “These endless political maneuvers aren’t helping the businesses, communities or people of the UK to prepare for the changes that lie ahead.”
– with reporting by Agence France-Presse