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UK lawmakers vote to hold prime minister to Brexit promises

Published
Remain in the European Union demonstrators hold up electrically lit letter asking for a 'People's Vote' opposite the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.  British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her Brexit divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal, or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Theresa May insisted Wednesday that Britain will leave the European Union on schedule next month, amid signs that her promise to give Parliament a vote on delaying Brexit was boosting support for her unpopular EU divorce deal.

May has bowed to pressure from within her Conservative government and given Parliament the chance to delay Britain's scheduled March 29 departure if lawmakers fail to approve her divorce agreement with the bloc.

The change of course was welcomed by pro-EU members of Britain's divided Parliament, who sought further guarantees the government would not try to renege on May's commitment. Lawmakers in the House of Commons voted 502-20 in favor of a symbolic motion underscoring May's promise.

Some pro-Brexit lawmakers, who fear delaying Brexit day could be used to try to stop Britain's withdrawal altogether, abstained from the vote.

On Tuesday, May gave Parliament a greater say over Brexit to forestall a rebellion by pro-EU members of her government, who threatened to quit and vote with the opposition in order to rule out a disruptive "no-deal" Brexit. She said Parliament will get to vote again on her deal with the EU by March 12. If it is rejected, lawmakers will then vote on whether to leave the EU without an agreement or seek to postpone Brexit by up to three months.

May stressed that she personally opposes extending the Brexit deadline, and said "the United Kingdom remains on course to leave the European Union with a deal" if lawmakers "hold their nerve." Writing in the Daily Mail, May said talks with the EU about securing changes to the divorce deal to make it more palatable to Parliament have "begun to bear fruit."

The House of Commons rejected May's deal with the EU by a huge margin last month — largely over concerns about a provision to guarantee an open border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland — and sent May back to Brussels to get changes.

The EU is adamant that the legally binding withdrawal agreement can't be changed, though the bloc's negotiators are holding talks with U.K. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox about potential tweaks or additions to reassure pro-Brexit British lawmakers that the border "backstop" is only a temporary measure.

May is calculating that the prospect of a delay may persuade pro-Brexit lawmakers to support her deal despite their reservations. Many Brexiteers feel the Irish backstop portion of the deal keeps the U.K. bound closely to EU trade rules, unable to strike new agreements around the world.

Brexit-backing Conservative lawmaker Edward Leigh said Wednesday that colleagues should back the agreement because "the choice is no longer perhaps between an imperfect deal and no deal — it is between an imperfect deal and no Brexit."

Lawmakers rejected a bid Wednesday by the main opposition Labour Party to force the government to embrace its alternative Brexit plan, which calls for retaining close ties with the EU. Labour has said if it can't get its plan through Parliament, it will campaign for a second referendum on Britain's EU membership.

The government caved in on a vote it looked set to lose, agreeing to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Britain whether or not the U.K. leaves the bloc without a Brexit deal.

"That such an amendment is needed is in itself a very sad state of affairs," said Alberto Costa, the Conservative lawmaker behind the motion. He said 3 million EU citizens in Britain and 1 million U.K. citizens in other EU countries "should never have been used as a bargaining chip.

British businesses welcomed the prospect of a Brexit delay. They warn that without a deal, Britain risks a chaotic departure that could disrupt trade between the U.K. and the EU, its biggest trading partner.

Confederation of British Industry head Carolyn Fairbairn said leaving without a deal would be "a wrecking ball on our economy" and giving the option to delay "feels like an option on sanity."

Delaying Brexit would require approval from all 27 other EU countries, whose leaders are annoyed by what they see as the inability of feuding British politicians to agree on what kind of relationship the U.K. wants with the bloc.

Chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said Wednesday that there must be clarity that extending negotiations wouldn't just prolong the impasse facing both sides.

EU politicians say Britain must have a good reason for seeking a pause.

French President Emmanuel Macron said any such request would need to be justified by "a clear perspective on the goal."

"We don't need time. We need decisions," he said at a joint news conference in Paris with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel said the EU wouldn't refuse Britain "a bit more time."

She said "we are aiming for an orderly solution — an orderly withdrawal by the British from the European Union."

___

Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Geir Moulson in Berlin and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this story.

___

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

A projection calling for a second referendum or a so-called
Demonstrators protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to lawmakers in parliament, London, Wednesday Feb. 27, 2019.  May insisted Wednesday that Britain will leave the European Union on schedule next month, amid signs that her promise to give Parliament a vote on delaying Brexit was boosting support for her unpopular EU divorce deal. (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament via AP)
Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, centre right, stands to talk to lawmakers inside  parliament, London, Wednesday Feb. 27, 2019.  Prime Minister Theresa May insisted Wednesday that Britain will leave the European Union on schedule next month, amid signs that her promise to give Parliament a vote on delaying Brexit was boosting support for her unpopular EU divorce deal. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
A European Union supporter holds up a placard showing the face of a prominent British lawmaker and leave the EU supporter Boris Johnson, during a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Demonstrators protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Leave the European Union supporters march in protest outside Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Demonstrators protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Britain's bumpy journey out of the European Union took a major turn Tuesday, as Prime Minister Theresa May handed the steering wheel to Parliament, giving lawmakers the power to slam on the brakes and divert Britain away from a disruptive cliff-edge Brexit.  (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A Demonstrator protests at the entrance of the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has warned that the Brexit uncertainty that has dogged the British economy over the past couple of years will remain even if lawmakers agree to a withdrawal agreement with the European Union in coming weeks.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A remain in the European Union supporter holds up a placard showing the face of a prominent British lawmaker and leave the EU supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg, during a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A European Union supporter tries on a new beret which shows the starts of the EU flag, as he take part in a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A supporter of leaving the European Union holds up a placard as he take part in a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A projection calling for a  second referendum or a so-called
Remain in the European Union protesters eat after paying for snacks at a stall run by the campaigners to help pay for they placards and flags outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Remain in the European Union demonstrators use a megaphone outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Remain in the European Union demonstrators use a megaphone outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A projection calling for a  second referendum or a so-called
A projection calling for a second referendum or a so-called "Peoples's vote", on behalf of a pressure group, is cast onto the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A European Union supporter tries on a new beret which shows the starts of the EU flag, as he take part in a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A European Union supporter tries on a new beret which shows the starts of the EU flag, as he take part in a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A European Union supporter holds up a placard showing the face of a prominent British lawmaker and leave the EU supporter Boris Johnson, during a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A European Union supporter holds up a placard showing the face of a prominent British lawmaker and leave the EU supporter Boris Johnson, during a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A supporter of leaving the European Union holds up a placard as he take part in a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A supporter of leaving the European Union holds up a placard as he take part in a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Demonstrators protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Britain's bumpy journey out of the European Union took a major turn Tuesday, as Prime Minister Theresa May handed the steering wheel to Parliament, giving lawmakers the power to slam on the brakes and divert Britain away from a disruptive cliff-edge Brexit.  (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Demonstrators protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Britain's bumpy journey out of the European Union took a major turn Tuesday, as Prime Minister Theresa May handed the steering wheel to Parliament, giving lawmakers the power to slam on the brakes and divert Britain away from a disruptive cliff-edge Brexit. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Remain in the European Union protesters eat after paying for snacks at a stall run by the campaigners to help pay for they placards and flags outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Remain in the European Union protesters eat after paying for snacks at a stall run by the campaigners to help pay for they placards and flags outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Demonstrators protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Demonstrators protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Leave the European Union supporters march in protest outside Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Leave the European Union supporters march in protest outside Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, centre right, stands to talk to lawmakers inside  parliament, London, Wednesday Feb. 27, 2019.  Prime Minister Theresa May insisted Wednesday that Britain will leave the European Union on schedule next month, amid signs that her promise to give Parliament a vote on delaying Brexit was boosting support for her unpopular EU divorce deal. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
Britain's main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, centre right, stands to talk to lawmakers inside parliament, London, Wednesday Feb. 27, 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May insisted Wednesday that Britain will leave the European Union on schedule next month, amid signs that her promise to give Parliament a vote on delaying Brexit was boosting support for her unpopular EU divorce deal. (Mark Duffy/UK Parliament via AP)
Remain in the European Union demonstrators use a megaphone outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Remain in the European Union demonstrators use a megaphone outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A projection calling for a second referendum or a so-called
A projection calling for a second referendum or a so-called "Peoples's vote", is cast onto the Houses of Parliament in London, Wednesday Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Demonstrators protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Demonstrators protest opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A remain in the European Union supporter holds up a placard showing the face of a prominent British lawmaker and leave the EU supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg, during a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A remain in the European Union supporter holds up a placard showing the face of a prominent British lawmaker and leave the EU supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg, during a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Remain in the European Union demonstrators use a megaphone outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Remain in the European Union demonstrators use a megaphone outside the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Remain in the European Union demonstrators hold up electrically lit letter asking for a 'People's Vote' opposite the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.  British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her Brexit divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal, or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Remain in the European Union demonstrators hold up electrically lit letter asking for a 'People's Vote' opposite the Palace of Westminster in London, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will give British lawmakers a choice of approving her Brexit divorce agreement, leaving the EU March 29 without a deal, or asking to delay Brexit by up to three months. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A Demonstrator protests at the entrance of the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has warned that the Brexit uncertainty that has dogged the British economy over the past couple of years will remain even if lawmakers agree to a withdrawal agreement with the European Union in coming weeks.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A Demonstrator protests at the entrance of the Houses of Parliament in London, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has warned that the Brexit uncertainty that has dogged the British economy over the past couple of years will remain even if lawmakers agree to a withdrawal agreement with the European Union in coming weeks.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to lawmakers in parliament, London, Wednesday Feb. 27, 2019.  May insisted Wednesday that Britain will leave the European Union on schedule next month, amid signs that her promise to give Parliament a vote on delaying Brexit was boosting support for her unpopular EU divorce deal. (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to lawmakers in parliament, London, Wednesday Feb. 27, 2019. May insisted Wednesday that Britain will leave the European Union on schedule next month, amid signs that her promise to give Parliament a vote on delaying Brexit was boosting support for her unpopular EU divorce deal. (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament via AP)
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)