LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May conceded Monday that Parliament would defeat her twice-rejected Brexit divorce deal again if she put it to a new vote, but said she still hopes to change lawmakers' minds and get the agreement approved.
With the U.K.'s departure from the European Union delayed and the new date up in the air, May also acknowledged she might be about to lose control of the Brexit process to lawmakers who want to force her government to change direction.
"It is with great regret that I have had to conclude that as things stand, there is still not sufficient support in the House to bring back the deal for a third meaningful vote," May told lawmakers in the House of Commons.
She said she hoped to hold the vote later this week and was working to build support for the deal, which sets out the terms of withdrawing from the E.U. and the outline of future relations with the bloc. May warned opponents that continuing to reject the deal her government negotiated last year could lead to a "slow Brexit" that postpones the country's departure indefinitely.
Meanwhile, pro-E.U. lawmakers in Parliament aimed to seize control of the process with a motion later Monday that would let them conduct a series of votes on alternatives to May's deal.
They hope these "indicative votes" on options that include a new voter referendum on E.U. membership and a "soft Brexit" that maintains close economic ties to the bloc can find majority support.
May said the government would "engage constructively" with the results of the process. But she said she was skeptical that it would produce a decisive result.
With the March 29 Brexit day set almost two years ago just days away and the withdrawal agreement lacking approval, European leaders seized control of the timetable last week. There is wide concern that a no-deal departure would be disruptive for the world's biggest trading bloc and deeply damaging for Britain.
The E.U. granted May's request for a delay, though a shorter one than she sought. It said if Parliament approves the proposed divorce deal, the U.K. will leave the E.U. on May 22. If not, the government has until April 12 to tell European leaders what it plans to do — leave without a deal, cancel Brexit or chart a new path.
In agreeing to the postponement, European leaders hoped Britain's deadlocked politicians would find a solution to the crisis. But the E.U. isn't counting on it. The European Commission said Monday it had completed planning for a no-deal Brexit, calling that outcome "increasingly likely."
May stands little chance of getting the deal she struck with the E.U. approved unless she can win over Brexit-backing lawmakers in her Conservative Party and its Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party. The DUP said Monday that the party's "position remains unchanged."
May has come under intense pressure to quit the prime minister's post as the price of winning support for the deal.
At a meeting Sunday at the prime minister's country retreat, Chequers, prominent Brexiteers told May they might back the deal — if she agreed to step down so that a new leader could take charge of the next phase of negotiations, which will settle Britain's future relations with the E.U.
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who attended the meeting, accused the government of lacking "gumption" and chickening out on delivering Brexit.