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UK's May seeks cross-party talks to avert 'no-deal' Brexit

LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May has brought a new word to the Brexit lexicon: compromise.

May offered Tuesday to hold talks with the leader of the opposition in an attempt to avoid a chaotic departure from the European Union in just 10 days.

The shift comes after lawmakers rejected the government's Brexit deal on three occasions, and twice failed to agree on any other option.

A look at what might happen next:


The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned that a 'no-deal' Brexit is "likely" because of Britain's political impasse.

Earlier this month, the EU agreed to postpone the original Brexit date of March 29, but gave Britain only until April 12 to come up with a new plan and seek a further extension, or leave without an agreement or a transition period to smooth the way.

Most politicians, economists and business groups think leaving the world's largest trading bloc without an agreement would be damaging for the EU and disastrous for the U.K. It would lead to tariffs imposed on trade between Britain and the EU, customs checks that could cause gridlock at ports and which could spark shortages of essential goods.

A hard core of Brexiteer legislators in May's Conservative Party dismiss this as "Project Fear" and argue for what they call a "clean Brexit." But most lawmakers are opposed to leaving without a deal. Parliament has voted repeatedly to rule out a 'no-deal' Brexit — but it remains the default position unless a deal is approved, Brexit is canceled or the EU grants Britain another extension.

May says the only way to guarantee Britain does not leave the EU without a deal is for Parliament to back her deal, which lawmakers have already rejected three times.

On Tuesday, she said she would be prepared to compromise with her opponents — potentially pledging to keep closer ties with the bloc than she wants — in order to win their backing for the withdrawal deal.



After almost two years of negotiations, Britain and the EU struck a divorce deal in November, laying out the terms of the departure from the bloc and giving a rough outline of future relations.

But it has been roundly rejected by lawmakers on both sides of the Brexit divide. Pro-Brexit lawmakers think it keeps Britain too closely tied to EU rules. Pro-EU legislators argue it is worse than the U.K.'s current status as an EU member.

Parliament has thrown it out three times. May's attempts to build support for the deal have so far focused on persuading pro-Brexit lawmakers to back it. But many have refused to budge.

Now May is changing tack, saying she will talk to the opposition on compromise proposals for Britain's future relations with the bloc in a bid to get their support for the deal.



May's offer of opposition talks suggest she is pivoting to a softer form of Brexit than the one she has described for almost three years.

May has always insisted Britain must leave the EU's single market and customs union in order to forge new trade deals around the world — but those ideas have strong opposition support.

In Monday's Parliament votes on alternative Brexit proposals, a plan to keep the U.K. in an EU customs union, ensuring seamless trade in goods, was defeated by just three votes.

Tweaking her deal to adopt a customs union could gain May valuable votes in Parliament. It also would likely be welcomed by the EU and would allow Britain to leave the bloc in an orderly fashion in the next few months.

However, it would also cause a schism in the Conservative Party, sparking the potential resignation of pro-Brexit government ministers.

That instability raises the chances of an early British election, which could rearrange Parliament and break the deadlock.



May conceded Tuesday that Britain will need a further delay to its departure in order to sort out the mess and avert a "no-deal" departure.

The EU is frustrated with the impasse and has said it will only grant another postponement if Britain comes up with a whole new Brexit plan. Still, EU Council President Donald Tusk has urged the bloc to "be patient" and give Britain a Brexit extension if it plans to change course.



Parliament on Monday also narrowly rejected a proposal for a new referendum on whether to leave the EU or remain.

The proposal for any Brexit deal to be put to public vote in a "confirmatory referendum" was defeated by 12 votes. It was backed by opposition parties, plus some of May's Conservatives — mainly those who want to stay in the bloc.

Her government has ruled out holding another referendum on Britain's EU membership, saying voters in 2016 made their decision to leave.

But with divisions in both Parliament and in May's Cabinet, handing the decision back to the people in a new plebiscite could be seen as the only way forward.