A Union flag, and a European Union (EU) flag fly as protesters march during a Unite for Europe march to protest Brexit in central London, U.K. (Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg)

May Says Brexit Talks to Go Into 2019 as She Fights for Deal

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has given herself another four weeks to save the Brexit deal she says is still the only way to avoid a chaotic split from the European Union.

Last week, May called off a parliamentary vote scheduled for Dec. 11 on the withdrawal agreement after concluding it would be defeated amid overwhelming opposition from politicians across the House of Commons. She’s still hoping for more concessions from the EU, and on Monday announced that the deal will finally be put to a vote in the week of Jan. 14.

But that wasn’t good enough for everyone.

Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn said May had evaded accountability in Parliament for too long. He proposed a motion of no confidence in May as prime minister, citing her “failure” to give the Commons a chance to vote on the divorce package she’s negotiated.

Still, it’s highly unlikely it would pass. The pro-Brexit European Research Group of Conservative politicians, who last week triggered a confidence vote in May over her leadership of the Tory party, said they would support her against the Labour motion.

In any case, the government won’t be allowing time for the vote. May’s office said it would give time only to a motion of no confidence in her government. If that passed, it would have the potential to trigger a general election. But Labour has said it will only go down that route if it is confident it can win.

No-Deal Brexit

“If we let the perfect be the enemy of the good, then we risk leaving the EU with no deal,” May said in Parliament. “Avoiding no deal is only possible if we can reach an agreement or if we abandon Brexit entirely. Do not imagine that if we vote this down, a different deal is going to miraculously appear.”

May Says Brexit Talks to Go Into 2019 as She Fights for Deal

The U.K. is due to leave the EU in three months’ time, but there’s so far no sign that the British Parliament will accept the divorce terms May has negotiated with the bloc. Without a deal, Britain will tumble out of the EU on March 29. That could hit the pound, crash house prices and cause disruption for millions of citizens and businesses.

May’s Cabinet will meet this morning to discuss planning for a no-deal Brexit. The prime minister’s Conservative critics argue that this is essential to convince the EU that Britain is serious about walking away from talks. The Sun newspaper reported ministers will be asked if they want to write to every business telling them to prepare for this scenario.

But although some Tories have talked about the idea of a “managed No Deal,” in which the EU agrees to side deals to mitigate the damage of a hard departure, the signals from Brussels were that the bloc isn’t interested.

May is pinning her hopes on securing a new legal assurance from the EU that the most contentious part of the Brexit agreement -- the back up for the Irish border -- won’t apply indefinitely. She was rebuffed at a summit in Brussels last Friday.

May said talks with the EU will continue into January in the hope of finding a solution that will win over politicians in Parliament to support the agreement.

The premier was asked if it would be wiser to seek an extension of the Brexit deadline rather than leaving with no deal in March when the two-year “Article 50” process -- under which countries legally exit the EU -- runs out.

“I don’t think it’s right to be seeking that extension of Article 50,” she said.

Her answer -- saying in the present tense that she doesn’t think it’s “right” to delay Brexit -- risks prompting more questions about her intentions. It didn’t sound like she was fully ruling it out.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.