U.K. and European officials are working on a new legal text for the most contentious part of the Brexit deal, but time is running out for Prime Minister Theresa May to persuade a fracturing Parliament to unite behind her plan.
As May sent ministers to seek concessions from the European Union on Monday, seven Labour MPs split from Britain’s main opposition party to form a new movement, shifting the political landscape and complicating the premier’s calculations over Brexit.
The premier also faced pressure from critics in her own party. There was speculation that some anti-Brexit Tories could quit to join the new grouping, while May also faced an attempt from Cabinet ministers to force her to take the threat of a no-deal divorce off the table.
The division and disarray led the European Commission to repeat its offer of delaying the U.K.’s departure.
“We are in God’s hands,” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said. “It is like being before the courts or on the high seas,” he told Germany’s Stuttgarter Zeitung.
The U.K. is due to leave the EU in just over five weeks and currently there is no agreement in place for the trade terms that will apply between the two. If no deal is reached before the March 29 deadline, economists predict a serious blow to the U.K. economy, including a hit to the pound of as much as 25 percent, a fall in house prices by as much as 30 percent and a possible recession.
May will chair a meeting of her cabinet on Tuesday morning and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will travel to Copenhagen as he tours European capitals to press the case that there is “a way through” the Brexit impasse.
In London, a number of anti-Brexit Conservatives — including one unnamed minister — were said to be weighing up whether to quit May’s party to join the Independent Group, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph.
In Brussels on Monday, May’s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox met EU officials in an effort to reach a compromise. May’s aides believe she has until Feb. 27 to get a better deal before Parliament runs out of patience and votes to take control of the process.
Barclay and Cox will hold further talks in Brussels on Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter. They will discuss the precise legal wording and form of a new assurance on the most difficult part of the deal: the so-called backstop plan for avoiding a hard border between the U.K. and Ireland.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was warned that more lawmakers could quit his party unless he acts on the concerns of the seven who resigned on Monday morning, will use a speech in London on Tuesday to argue that Labour’s strategy can win a majority in the House of Commons.
The party’s proposal for a permanent customs union, strong relationship with the single market and guarantees on rights and protections “could win the support of parliament and help bring the country together,” he will say, according to extracts released by his office. “Later this week I will travel to Brussels to discuss it with Michel Barnier and others.”
Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said on Monday that the bloc remains open to the idea of a permanent customs union if British red lines shift.
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