GRIMSBY(UK): Prime Minister Theresa May called on the European Union on Friday to make "one more push" to get the Brexit deal over the line in time for Britain's exit from the bloc in three weeks. The beleaguered British leader's request for an additional concession from Brussels comes with Britain on the brink of hurtling out of the EU after 46 years with very few arrangements in place.
The British parliament is set to vote on Tuesday on May's existing deal with Brussels after rejecting it by a historic margin last month. But last-gasp negotiations between UK and EU envoys ended in acrimony on Wednesday and May still lacks the assurances she has been after from Brussels to get her deal through. May told an audience of factory workers in the northeastern fishing town of Grimsby that Britain may never split off from the other 27 nations if Brussels failed to help her now.
The deal "needs just one more push to address the final, specific concerns of our parliament," May said in prepared remarks. "So let's not hold back. Let's do what is necessary for MPs to back the deal on Tuesday. Because if MPs reject the deal, nothing is certain. It would be at a moment of crisis," she said.
'Damage to Democracy'
The deal is stuck on the so-called "backstop" solution that London and Brussels have come up with to keep the Irish border open with Britain's Northern Ireland -- a province of past sectarian violence.
Some lawmakers in May's Conservative Party fear that the arrangement will keep Britain trapped long-term in a customs union with the EU. May wants a written guarantee from Brussels that this will not be the case.
EU officials say the backstop must stay in place until a new trade deal is signed -- no matter how long that takes. EU ambassadors were to meet in Brussels on Friday to discuss how they might proceed ahead of next week's crucial events in London. May has scheduled a potential series of votes that could include one on Thursday asking the EU to grant London an exit day delay.
But May said such a deferral would create "continuing uncertainty" that ruins the business climate and potentially leads to Brexit never happening. A delay would only lead to "more months and years arguing. If we go down that road, we might never leave the EU at all. That would be a political failure. It would let down the more than 17 million people who voted to leave the EU and do profound damage to their faith in our democracy," May said.
'Not an unreasonable ask'
Grimsby ran the world's largest fishing fleet in the 20th century but has seen its prosperity fall after Britain joined the European communities and signed up to the Common Fisheries Policy.
Some 70 per cent in the surrounding area voted in favour of Britain leaving the EU in 2016. May's decision to visit the region on Friday highlights her government's efforts to remind Conservative MPs of the backlash they might face from voters if they failed to deliver Brexit on time.
Top members of May's team have spent recent days delivering stark warnings about Britain never leaving and the complications this would create for the EU. "This is a moment of change in our relationship between the UK and the EU and history will judge both sides very badly if we get this wrong," Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told BBC radio.
"We know what it would take to get a deal through the House of Commons, and it is for a significant change that would allow the (UK government) to say we couldn't be trapped in the customs union forever. Because if MPs reject the deal, nothing is certain. It would be at a moment of crisis.," said Hunt.