Wed | Jul 15, 2020

Seeking Brexit support, Theresa May offers vote on new referendum

Published:Tuesday | May 21, 2019 | 2:21 PM
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech in London, Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, pool)

LONDON (AP) — In a major concession, British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday offered U.K. lawmakers the chance to vote on whether to hold a new referendum on the country’s membership in the European Union — but only if they back her thrice-rejected Brexit agreement.

May made the offer as part of a desperate attempt to persuade Parliament to back a divorce deal that will allow the U.K. make an orderly, if delayed, departure from the EU.

She plans to ask the House of Commons to vote in early June on a withdrawal agreement bill in what May called a “last chance” to seal a Brexit deal.

Soon after that vote, she will give a timetable for her departure as Conservative leader and prime minister.

In a speech Tuesday, May said the bill would include “a requirement to vote on whether to hold a second referendum” that would give Britons a chance to approve or reject the terms of Brexit.

A referendum is a key demand of opposition lawmakers who have until now rejected May’s deal.

“I do not believe that this is a route we should take,” said May, who has long opposed a new public vote on Brexit.

“But I recognise the genuine and sincere strength of feeling across the House on this important issue.”

The Brexit referendum, however, will only happen if Parliament backs the EU withdrawal bill and it becomes law, something that still seems unlikely, despite May’s last-minute changes.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said May’s new bill was merely “a repackaging of the same old bad deal, rejected three times by Parliament.”

May’s tack toward the opposition further angered pro-Brexit Conservative lawmakers, who are already furious at her failure to take Britain out of the EU on schedule.

They want to replace her with a staunch Brexit supporter such as Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary.

Britain voted for Brexit in June 2016 and was due to leave the EU on March 29, but the bloc has extended the deadline until October 31 amid the U.K.’s political impasse.

Talks on securing a compromise on the Brexit deal between May’s Conservatives and Labour broke down last week.

May says she will try again the week of June 3 by asking lawmakers to vote on a withdrawal agreement bill implementing the departure terms.

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