Theresa May, U.K. prime minister. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Brexit Bulletin: One More Chance?

(Bloomberg) -- Today in Brexit: EU officials make a fresh offer to the U.K. as Theresa May prepares to tell the bloc next week’s vote is still in its hands.

After a week of tense talks in Brussels, it’s down to the wire. With Theresa May due to speak on Friday, signs emerged that the two sides are at least trying to break the impasse that threatens to condemn the Brexit deal to a second Westminster defeat next week.

The European Union has put forward new proposals to make the so-called Irish border “backstop” more acceptable, Bloomberg’s Ian Wishart reports. The fresh offer focuses on bolstering the review system (which is already set out in the deal) and is designed to speed up the process of finding a better solution.

Still, there’s no guarantee this will be enough. Many U.K. lawmakers say the backstop risks binding the nation to EU rules forever after Brexit, so there’s doubt over whether it will win Parliament round next week.

In a speech today in the fishing town of Grimsby, the prime minister is expected to make a last-ditch plea for more concessions and legally binding changes ahead of the vote, seeking to shift the blame for the impasse onto the EU.

Crucially, the EU’s latest proposal doesn’t meet the demands made by U.K. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox – whose blessing on any new agreement is now the key to unlocking more parliamentary support. Cox, whose flamboyant style isn’t going down well in Brussels, wanted to enable the U.K. to leave the backstop without EU approval. His plan was flatly rejected this week.

Brexit Bulletin: One More Chance?

The next 72 hours are crucial as negotiators continue to thrash out ideas, officials say. May could make a last-ditch trip to Brussels, but this is by no means certain, EU officials said. If talks fail, Parliament will probably vote against the deal for the second time, plunging the U.K. into (more) political chaos.

Either way, the timetable for next week’s vote now looks to be confirmed. Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom yesterday said that lawmakers will vote on the government’s Brexit deal on Tuesday, damping talk of a possible delay. If the government loses the crunch vote, Leadsom added, votes on a no-deal Brexit and potentially on delaying the exit date will come into play. The Times reports today that May is also being urged to offer a series of free votes on other alternatives.

Today’s Must-Reads

Brexit Bulletin: One More Chance?

Brexit in Brief

Market Forces | Traders at Borough Market, London’s foodie central, have begun stockpiling produce on concern that the U.K. might leave without a deal. The market has already seen a slowdown ahead of March 29.

Business Concern | There’s confusion around which goods will be subjected to U.K. import tariffs in a no-deal Brexit, and it’s exasperating companies, Bloomberg’s Joe Mayes and Irene García Pérez report. Meanwhile, the EU’s top trade official warned of a “chaotic” Brexit, with some of the EU’s other member states still not prepared.

Labouring Over a Second Vote | Labour will not support a new referendum on Brexit in all circumstances, the Independent reports. The newspaper cites unidentified sources as saying that the party is not advocating a new vote on anything other than a “damaging Tory Brexit.”

Brown Intervention | Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for a year-long delay to Brexit in order to "bring the country together” and to allow for “the country to be consulted,” according to Sky News.

Rolling Out Contingency Plan | Greggs the baker wants to make sure its hot-selling new vegan sausage roll won’t be affected by Brexit. The sandwich chain has been stockpiling ingredients, Chief Executive Officer Roger Whiteside said yesterday.

That’s All Folks | The civil servant in charge of Britain’s no-deal Brexit preparations is planning to retire early on March 31, the Times reports, two days after he may have to put those plans into effect.

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