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Prime Minister May says she'll step down if Brexit deal OK'd

Published
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May stands to face opposition lawmakers inside the House of Commons parliament in London Wednesday March 27, 2019.  As Lawmakers sought Wednesday for an alternative to May's unpopular Brexit deal with Europe, with a series of 'indicative votes

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May offered up her job in exchange for her Brexit deal Wednesday, telling colleagues she would quit within weeks if the agreement was passed and Britain left the European Union.

May's dramatic concession that "there is a desire for a new approach - and new leadership" was a last-ditch effort to bring enough reluctant colleagues on board to push her twice-rejected EU divorce deal over the line.

It looked like it might not be enough, as a key Northern Ireland party said it would not be supporting the deal.

May's announcement came as lawmakers held an inconclusive series of votes on alternatives to her unpopular deal. It was the first step in an attempt by Parliament to break the Brexit deadlock and stop the country from tumbling out of the bloc within weeks with no exit plan in place.

May has been under mounting pressure from pro-Brexit members of her Conservative Party to quit. Many Brexiteers accuse her of negotiating a bad divorce deal that leaves Britain too closely tied to the bloc after it leaves.

Several have said they would support the withdrawal deal if another leader took charge of the next stage of negotiations, which will determine Britain's future relations with the EU.

In a packed meeting of Conservative legislators described by participants as "somber," May finally conceded she would have to go, although she did not set a departure date.

"I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party," she said, according to a transcript released by her office.

Anti-EU lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has clashed with May throughout the Brexit process, said she had been "very clear" that if Britain leaves the EU as foreseen on May 22, she will quit soon after.

He said the prime minister had been "very dignified."

"She put her case well, and reiterated that she had done her duty," he said.

It was unclear whether May's offer to resign would be enough to win backing for her deal, which was defeated by 230 votes in January and by 149 votes earlier this month.

High-profile Brexiteer Boris Johnson announced soon after May's statement that he would support the agreement, which he has previously called a "humiliation." Johnson is a likely contender to replace May as prime minister.

But other hard-liners said they would continue to reject the deal, and Northern Ireland's small but influential Democratic Unionist Party refused to budge in its opposition to the deal.

The DUP's support was seen as key to persuading other Brexiteers to back the deal. But the staunchly pro-British party fears a provision designed keep an open border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland after Brexit would weaken the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

"We cannot sign up to something that would damage the Union," DUP leader Arlene Foster told Sky News.

Asked if the party might abstain instead, DUP lawmaker Nigel Dodds tweeted: "The DUP do not abstain on the Union."

Two years ago, Britain triggered a countdown to departure from the EU that ended Friday, March 29, 2019. With that date approaching and no Brexit deal approved by Britain, the EU last week granted a delay. It said that if Parliament approves the proposed divorce deal this week, the U.K. will leave the EU on May 22. If not, the government has until April 12 to tell the 27 remaining EU countries what it plans to do: leave without a deal, cancel Brexit or propose a radically new path.

With May clinging to her Plan A — getting her deal approved — lawmakers this week seized control of the parliamentary timetable for debate and votes Wednesday on a range of Brexit alternatives.

The results underscored the divisions in Parliament, and the country, over Brexit. None of the eight plans received a majority of votes. The most popular were a proposal to remain in a customs union with the bloc, which was defeated 272-264, and a call to hold a public referendum on any divorce deal, which fell by 295 votes to 268. Both ideas got more support than the 242 votes secured by May's deal earlier this month.

A call to leave the EU without a deal was supported by 160 lawmakers and opposed by 400.

The plan is for the most popular ideas to move to a second vote Monday to find an option that can command a majority. Parliament would then instruct the government to negotiate it with the EU.

May has said she will consider the outcome of the votes, although she has refused to be bound by the result.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay urged lawmakers to back May's deal, saying the ambiguous result "demonstrates that there are no easy options here."

Barclay said he had introduced a motion to have Parliament meet Friday if needed for a vote on May's agreement, but it remained unclear whether it would go ahead. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said he would not accept another vote on the twice-rejected deal unless substantial changes were made.

Wednesday's votes produced inconclusive results, but could push Britain in the direction of a softer Brexit that keeps Britain closely tied economically to the EU.

That would probably require the U.K. to seek a longer delay, although that would mean participating in May 23-26 European Parliament elections.

Many EU officials are keen to avoid the messy participation of a departing member state.

But the chief of the European Council told European lawmakers that the EU should let Britain take part if the country indicated it planned to change course on Brexit. Donald Tusk said the bloc could not "betray" the millions of Britons who want to stay in the EU.

"They may feel they are not sufficiently represented by the U.K. Parliament but they must feel that they are represented by you in this chamber. Because they are Europeans," Tusk said.

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Gregory Katz and Tobie Mathew in London and Raf Casert in Strasbourg, France, contributed.

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Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa may leaves the Houses of Parliament, on the day that MPs will be asked to consider a range of alternative Brexit options after Parliament seized control of the Commons agenda to force a series of
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa may leaves the Houses of Parliament, on the day that MPs will be asked to consider a range of alternative Brexit options after Parliament seized control of the Commons agenda to force a series of
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May stands to face opposition lawmakers inside the House of Commons parliament in London Wednesday March 27, 2019. As Lawmakers sought Wednesday for an alternative to May's unpopular Brexit deal with Europe, with a series of 'indicative votes
1.2 metre-tall illuminated sign reading
A pro EU protestor shouts through a megaphone at the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. British lawmakers were preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing street to attend her weekly Prime Minster's Questions at the House of Commons, in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019.  British lawmakers are preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A pro Brexit campaigner sits with a banner outside Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. British lawmakers WERE preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, speaks with European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, center, as Jyrki Katainen, left, EU Commission Vice President looks on at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday March 27, 2019. The Parliament discusses the conclusions of the 21-22 March EU summit, including Brexit, with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, center, greets Former U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader and member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. The Parliament discusses the conclusions of the 21-22 March EU summit, including Brexit, with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
A Pro EU protestor demonstrates in front of the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. British lawmakers were preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Former U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader and member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday March 27, 2019. The Parliament discusses the conclusions of the 21-22 March EU summit, including Brexit, with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani sits at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday March 27, 2019. The Parliament discusses the conclusions of the 21-22 March EU summit, including Brexit, with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
In this grab taken from video, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday March 27, 2019.  British lawmakers are preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May.  (House of Commons/PA via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing street to attend her weekly Prime Minster's Questions at the House of Commons, in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019.  British lawmakers are preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporters take part in the day 12 leg of the
In this grab taken from video, the Speaker of the House John Bercow announces that he has selected eight of the 16 Brexit alternative proposals to be considered as part of the indicative vote process to the House of Commons, in London, Wednesday March 27, 2019. (House of Commons/PA via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves the Houses of Parliament, on the day that MPs will be asked to consider a range of alternative Brexit options after Parliament seized control of the Commons agenda to force a series of
Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn during a debate inside the House of Commons parliament in London Wednesday March 27, 2019. As Lawmakers sought Wednesday for an alternative to May's unpopular Brexit deal with Europe, with a series of 'indicative votes
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing street to attend her weekly Prime Minster's Questions at the House of Commons, in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019.  British lawmakers are preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing street to attend her weekly Prime Minster's Questions at the House of Commons, in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. British lawmakers are preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
In this grab taken from video, the Speaker of the House John Bercow announces that he has selected eight of the 16 Brexit alternative proposals to be considered as part of the indicative vote process to the House of Commons, in London, Wednesday March 27, 2019. (House of Commons/PA via AP)
In this grab taken from video, the Speaker of the House John Bercow announces that he has selected eight of the 16 Brexit alternative proposals to be considered as part of the indicative vote process to the House of Commons, in London, Wednesday March 27, 2019. (House of Commons/PA via AP)
In this grab taken from video, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday March 27, 2019.  British lawmakers are preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May.  (House of Commons/PA via AP)
In this grab taken from video, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday March 27, 2019. British lawmakers are preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (House of Commons/PA via AP)
A pro EU protestor shouts through a megaphone at the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. British lawmakers were preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A pro EU protestor shouts through a megaphone at the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. British lawmakers were preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A Pro EU protestor demonstrates in front of the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. British lawmakers were preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A Pro EU protestor demonstrates in front of the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. British lawmakers were preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn during a debate inside the House of Commons parliament in London Wednesday March 27, 2019. As Lawmakers sought Wednesday for an alternative to May's unpopular Brexit deal with Europe, with a series of 'indicative votes
Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn during a debate inside the House of Commons parliament in London Wednesday March 27, 2019. As Lawmakers sought Wednesday for an alternative to May's unpopular Brexit deal with Europe, with a series of 'indicative votes", May offered to resign from office if her deal is passed by lawmakers at some point and Britain left the European Union. (Mark Duffy/House of Commons via AP)
Pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporters take part in the day 12 leg of the
Pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporters take part in the day 12 leg of the "March to Leave", passing local residents watching them march part in the village of Maids Moreton, England, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. The protest march which started on March 16 in Sunderland, north east England, finishes on Friday March 29 in London, on what was the original date for Brexit to happen before the recent extension. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves the Houses of Parliament, on the day that MPs will be asked to consider a range of alternative Brexit options after Parliament seized control of the Commons agenda to force a series of
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves the Houses of Parliament, on the day that MPs will be asked to consider a range of alternative Brexit options after Parliament seized control of the Commons agenda to force a series of "indicative votes", Wednesday evening March 27, 2019. May told lawmakers Wednesday she is prepared to step down "earlier than I intended" in order to win passage of her Brexit divorce deal from the European Union. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
A pro Brexit campaigner sits with a banner outside Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. British lawmakers WERE preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
A pro Brexit campaigner sits with a banner outside Parliament in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. British lawmakers WERE preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May stands to face opposition lawmakers inside the House of Commons parliament in London Wednesday March 27, 2019.  As Lawmakers sought Wednesday for an alternative to May's unpopular Brexit deal with Europe, with a series of 'indicative votes
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May stands to face opposition lawmakers inside the House of Commons parliament in London Wednesday March 27, 2019. As Lawmakers sought Wednesday for an alternative to May's unpopular Brexit deal with Europe, with a series of 'indicative votes", May offered to resign from office if her deal is passed by lawmakers at some point and Britain left the European Union. (Jessica Taylor/House of Commons via AP)
1.2 metre-tall illuminated sign reading
1.2 metre-tall illuminated sign reading "LET US VOTE" is set up outside Parliament by the public and civic organisation Avaaz in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. British lawmakers were preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the Brexit deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing street to attend her weekly Prime Minster's Questions at the House of Commons, in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019.  British lawmakers are preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing street to attend her weekly Prime Minster's Questions at the House of Commons, in London, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. British lawmakers are preparing to vote Wednesday on alternatives for leaving the European Union as they seek to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Former U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader and member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday March 27, 2019. The Parliament discusses the conclusions of the 21-22 March EU summit, including Brexit, with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
Former U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader and member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday March 27, 2019. The Parliament discusses the conclusions of the 21-22 March EU summit, including Brexit, with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, center, greets Former U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader and member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. The Parliament discusses the conclusions of the 21-22 March EU summit, including Brexit, with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, center, greets Former U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader and member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday, March 27, 2019. The Parliament discusses the conclusions of the 21-22 March EU summit, including Brexit, with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May stands to face opposition lawmakers inside the House of Commons parliament in London Wednesday March 27, 2019. As Lawmakers sought Wednesday for an alternative to May's unpopular Brexit deal with Europe, with a series of 'indicative votes
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May stands to face opposition lawmakers inside the House of Commons parliament in London Wednesday March 27, 2019. As Lawmakers sought Wednesday for an alternative to May's unpopular Brexit deal with Europe, with a series of 'indicative votes", May offered to resign from office if her deal is passed by lawmakers at some point and Britain left the European Union. (Mark Duffy/House of Commons via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa may leaves the Houses of Parliament, on the day that MPs will be asked to consider a range of alternative Brexit options after Parliament seized control of the Commons agenda to force a series of
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa may leaves the Houses of Parliament, on the day that MPs will be asked to consider a range of alternative Brexit options after Parliament seized control of the Commons agenda to force a series of "indicative votes", Wednesday evening March 27, 2019. May told lawmakers Wednesday she is prepared to step down "earlier than I intended" in order to win passage of her Brexit divorce deal from the European Union. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, speaks with European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, center, as Jyrki Katainen, left, EU Commission Vice President looks on at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday March 27, 2019. The Parliament discusses the conclusions of the 21-22 March EU summit, including Brexit, with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, speaks with European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, center, as Jyrki Katainen, left, EU Commission Vice President looks on at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday March 27, 2019. The Parliament discusses the conclusions of the 21-22 March EU summit, including Brexit, with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa may leaves the Houses of Parliament, on the day that MPs will be asked to consider a range of alternative Brexit options after Parliament seized control of the Commons agenda to force a series of
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa may leaves the Houses of Parliament, on the day that MPs will be asked to consider a range of alternative Brexit options after Parliament seized control of the Commons agenda to force a series of "indicative votes", Wednesday evening March 27, 2019. May told lawmakers Wednesday she is prepared to step down "earlier than I intended" in order to win passage of her Brexit divorce deal from the European Union. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani sits at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday March 27, 2019. The Parliament discusses the conclusions of the 21-22 March EU summit, including Brexit, with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani sits at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday March 27, 2019. The Parliament discusses the conclusions of the 21-22 March EU summit, including Brexit, with European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)