United Kingdom signs Swiss trade deal as heat grows on Liam Fox

Blanche Robertson
February 12, 2019

Prime Minister Theresa May will pledge this week to give parliament another chance to voice their opinions on Brexit by February 27 as she tries to buy more time to negotiate a new deal with the European Union.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has written to the Prime Minister setting out five demands that would have to be met for his MPs to support a deal, including a permanent customs union and close alignment with the single market. The backstop is the main obstacle to securing agreement on the terms of Britain's withdrawal from the EU.

Economists say a no-deal Brexit would affect more than 100,000 jobs in Germany that depend on trade with Britain, with the auto industry hardest hit.

In Westminster, meanwhile, May is expected to confirm she will hold another Brexit vote in parliament on 27 February.

Since January, when her Brexit deal - the result of two years of haggling with the European Union - was emphatically rejected by parliament, drawing the scorn of both pro-EU lawmakers and Brexiters, May has dusted it down and plans to offer it up again for a vote.

May has been trying to win a legal assurance giving Britain the right eventually to drop the backstop and negotiate its own trade deals.

British businesses as well as former prime ministers and retired top civil servants have been warning that Britain is ill-prepared to crash out of the bloc without a transition deal.

"Unless Parliament can agree on something else, that is what we are going to get".

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Brexit backers in May's party think the so-called "backstop" arrangement in the current deal would keep Britain indefinitely tied to European Union rules.

The EU and the Irish Government have insisted that the backstop is the best way of guaranteeing there will be no hard border in Ireland.

With only 47 days to go, there have been claims the prime minister is running down the clock to make it more likely that MPs will back her withdrawal agreement as so many of them fear a no-deal departure.

And there were signs of unease in Tory ranks at the idea of Mrs May exploring means of bringing the Labour leader on board in her search for a Brexit deal.

The agreement, which will take effect when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, was first announced in December and was ratified in Bern, Switzerland, on Monday.

Angus MacNeil, chairman of the Commons global trade committee, said the admission by officials about new trade deals not being ready in time for Brexit was "what has been suspected for some time".

She appeared to rule out that possibility, arguing it would diminish the country's ability to strike trade deals. But a member of May's cabinet pledged Sunday to give parliament a further ballot two weeks later - a measure meant to give the premier more time for talks with the EU.

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