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April 02, 2019

LONDON (AP) — The alarms are flashing, the cliff-edge is coming closer — but can Britain avoid tumbling out of the European Union? After lawmakers rejected the government’s Brexit deal on three occasions, and twice failed to agree on any other option, the U.K. has just 10 days to come up with a new plan or crash out of the EU.

A look at what might happen next:

NO DEAL

Michel Barnier, who has been the chief Brexit negotiator for the other 27 EU countries, 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. Barring that, Parliament could try to take drastic action such as toppling the government or legislating to force it to avoid ‘no-deal’ — though these are risky and tricky options.

MAY’S UNDEAD 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, although the latest defeat, by 58 votes, was the narrowest yet. It was rejected even after May won over some pro-Brexit lawmakers by promising to quit if it was approved.

May is considering one last push this week, arguing that Parliament’s failure to back any other deal means her agreement is the best option available. But the odds of success look long.

SOFT BREXIT

On Monday, Parliament voted on four alternative proposals to May’s rejected deal after lawmakers seized control of the schedule from the government.

None got a majority, but the votes revealed a solid block of support for a “soft Brexit” that would maintain close economic ties between Britain and the EU. A plan to keep the U.K. in an EU customs union, ensuring seamless trade in goods, was defeated by just three votes.

May has ruled those options out, because sticking to EU trade rules would limit Britain’s ability to forge new trade deals around the world.

But 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.

NEW BREXIT REFERENDUM

Parliament 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.

BREXIT DELAYED

The alternative to a “no-deal” departure is to delay Brexit for at least several months, and possibly more than a year, to sort out the mess. 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.

The bloc is reluctant to have a departing Britain participate in the May 23-26 European parliament elections, but that would have to be done if Brexit is delayed. Still, EU Council President Donald Tusk has urged the bloc to give Britain a Brexit extension if it plans to change course.

A long delay raises the chances of an early British election, which could rearrange Parliament and break the deadlock.

March 30, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal may not be dead after all — even though lawmakers voted to reject it for a third time Friday — the day Britain had long been scheduled to leave the European Union.

The U.K. now faces a deadline of April 12 to present the EU with a new plan, or crash out of the bloc without an agreement. But May’s government is considering a fourth vote on her deal, bolstered by their success in narrowing margin of defeat to 58 votes on Friday from 230 votes in January.

Here’s a look at what could happen next:

NO DEAL

The EU has given Britain until April 12 — two weeks away — to decide whether it wants to ask for another postponement to Brexit. The bloc has called an emergency Brexit summit for April 10 to deal with a British request, or prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

Without a delay, Britain will leave the bloc at 11 p.m. U.K. time (6 p.m. EDT) on April 12 without a divorce agreement to smooth the way. Most politicians, economists and business groups think such a no-deal scenario would be disastrous, erecting customs checks, tariffs and other barriers between Britain and its biggest trading partner.

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.

DELAY AND SOFTEN

The alternative to “no-deal” is to delay Brexit for at least several months while Britain tries to sort out the mess.

The bloc is reluctant to have a departing Britain participate in European Parliament elections in late May, which it would have to do if Brexit is delayed. But EU Council President Donald Tusk has urged the bloc to give Britain an extension if it plans to change course and seek a softer Brexit that keeps close economic ties between Britain and the bloc.

This week British lawmakers held a series of “indicative votes” on alternatives to May’s deal — and all eight options on offer were defeated. But the move did hint at a potential compromise. The measure that came closest to a majority called for Britain to remain in a customs union with the EU after it leaves.

May has always ruled that out, because sticking to EU trade rules would limit Britain’s ability to forge new trade deals around the world.

But a customs union would ensure U.K. businesses can continue to trade with the EU, and would solve many of the problems that bedevil May’s deal. In particular, it would remove the need for customs posts and border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

There’s a good chance a withdrawal agreement that included a customs union pledge would be approved by Parliament, and welcomed by the EU.

But some hard-line Conservative Party lawmakers have written to May, insisting that she not agree to a Brexit extension beyond May 22, which would force the U.K. to take part in the next European Parliament election, the Sun newspaper reported.

The letter urged the prime minister to bring her Brexit deal back to Parliament for a fourth vote, with the threat of a general election if it is rejected again, the Sun said.

ELECTION GAMBLE

Britain is not scheduled to hold a national election until 2022, but the gridlock in Parliament makes an early vote more likely.

Opposition politicians think the only way forward is an early election that could rearrange Parliament and break its current political deadlock. They could try to bring down May’s Conservative-led government in a no-confidence vote, triggering a general election.

Or the government could pull the trigger itself, if it thinks it has nothing to lose.

May has promised to quit if her Brexit deal is approved and Britain left the EU in May. Even though it was defeated, she will still face huge pressure to resign, paving the way for a Conservative Party leadership contest.

A NEW BREXIT REFERENDUM

Another option considered by British lawmakers this week called for any Brexit deal to be put to public vote in a “confirmatory referendum.” The idea has significant support from opposition parties, plus some Conservatives.

The government has ruled out holding another referendum on Britain’s EU membership, but could change its mind if there appeared no other way to pass a Brexit deal.

Britain voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU in 2016. Since then, polls suggest the “remain” side has gained in strength, but it’s far from clear who would win a new referendum.

The new vote could leave Britain just as divided over Europe as it is now.

March 30, 2019

LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers on Friday rejected the government’s Brexit deal for a third time, leaving the U.K. facing the stark prospect of a chaotic departure from the European Union in just two weeks, with political leaders in turmoil and the country ill-prepared for the shock.

It’s either that, or a long delay to the country’s exit from the EU. The alternatives are dwindling. The House of Commons voted 344-286 against the withdrawal agreement struck between Prime Minister Theresa May and the EU, rebuffing her plea to “put aside self and party” and deliver the Brexit that Britons voted for.

Amid business warnings that a no-deal Brexit could mean crippling tariffs, border gridlock and shortages of goods, a visibly frustrated May said the vote had “grave” implications. “The legal default now is that the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union on 12 April — in just 14 days’ time,” she said. “This is not enough time to agree, legislate for and ratify a deal, and yet the House has been clear it will not permit leaving without a deal. And so we will have to agree an alternative way forward.”

Had the deal been passed, Britain would have left the EU on May 22. The bloc said the rejection of the divorce terms made a no-deal Brexit “a likely scenario” and called an emergency summit of EU leaders for April 10 to decide what to do next.

An EU Commission official said the 27 remaining EU nations were “fully prepared for a no-deal scenario at midnight 12th of April.” Almost three years after Britain voted in June 2016 to leave the EU, and two years after it set its departure date for March 29, 2019, British politicians remain deadlocked over Brexit. Like the country as a whole, they are split between those who want a clean break, those who want to retain close ties with the bloc, and those who want to overturn the decision to leave.

Last week, to prevent Britain from crashing out, the EU granted an extension to May 22 if the divorce deal was approved by Friday — or to April 12 if it was rejected. Friday’s 58-vote margin of defeat for the deal was narrower than previous votes in January and March, but it still left the government’s blueprint for exiting the bloc in tatters.

May’s deal was voted down even after the prime minister sacrificed her job in exchange for Brexit, promising to quit if lawmakers approved the agreement. With the deal’s rejection, she will face pressure to step aside and let a new Conservative Party leader take over negotiations with the EU.

The government had also warned pro-Brexit politicians that rejecting May’s deal could see Britain’s departure from the EU delayed indefinitely. May’s arguments moved some previously resistant Brexit-backers to support the deal. Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson — a likely contender to replace May as Conservative leader — tweeted that rejecting it risked “being forced to accept an even worse version of Brexit or losing Brexit altogether.”

But May’s key allies, the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, refused to back the agreement because it treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K. Parliament voted on the legally binding, 585-page withdrawal agreement that May struck with the EU late last year, setting out the terms of Britain’s departure — but not on a shorter declaration on future ties that was also part of the accord between the two sides.

Removing the political declaration altered the deal enough to overcome a parliamentary ban against asking lawmakers the same question over and over again. May also hoped severing the link between the two parts of the deal would blunt opposition. That gamble failed to pay off, as opposition lawmakers said if amounted to voting for a “blind Brexit” with no idea what would happen next.

Opposition lawmakers declared May’s deal as good as dead. Labour Party legislator Ian Murray likened it to the dead parrot in a Monty Python comedy sketch. “Her deal is no more,” he said. “It has ceased to exist. It is bereft of life. It rests in peace. It’s a deal that has been nailed to its perch. It’s an ex-parrot, it is an ex-deal.”

Lawmakers who favor a “soft Brexit” plan to hold votes Monday in an attempt to find a deal with majority support that can break the deadlock. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Parliament had a “responsibility to find a majority for a better deal for all the people of this country.”

Business groups, who have been sounding the alarm for months about the damage a no-deal Brexit could do, urged lawmakers to avert disaster. “All eyes are now on Monday to discover what Parliament is for,” said Josh Hardie, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry. “The U.K.’s reputation, people’s jobs and livelihoods are at stake. No-deal is two weeks away.”

There also were new warnings in Europe. Eric Schweitzer, head of the influential Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said it was time to prepare for the worst. “Britain and Europe are stumbling toward an unregulated withdrawal from the EU,” he said.

If lawmakers back a new proposal, Britain would need to seek a new delay to Brexit from the bloc to implement it. The EU has indicated it could grant an extension of up to a year if the U.K. plans to change course and tack toward a softer departure. That would, however, require Britain to participate in elections for the European Parliament in late May — something both the bloc and the British government have sought to avoid.

The political morass has left Britons on both sides of the debate frustrated and angry. Thousands of Brexit supporters, who had planned to be celebrating Friday, were protesting instead. They converged on Parliament Square as lawmakers voted inside, waving Union Jack flags, singing “Bye-Bye EU” and lamenting the government’s failure to take Britain out of the bloc on schedule.

“The people are supposed to be the masters and them inside (Parliament) are meant to do what we tell them,” said Charlotte Clifford from Eastbourne in southern England. “It’s democracy.” The main “Leave Means Leave” protest outside Parliament was attended by senior Brexiteers including former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who called Friday a “day of betrayal.”

In a separate rally up the street, far-right agitator Tommy Robinson roused supporters with a speech attacking politicians and the media. Retired charity worker Mandy Childs, one of a band of Brexit supporters walking across England to join the “Leave Means Leave” protest, said she felt “heartbroken.”

“We were told over a 100 times by a British prime minister that we would be leaving on the 29th of March, 2019,” she said. “To do that, promise the British people that and then say ‘Actually, no, we need to just put it back’ — absolute betrayal. And how dare she?”

Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Brussels, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw and Jeff Schaeffer in Great Missenden, England, contributed.

March 27, 2019

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.

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

March 27, 2019

LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers were preparing to vote Wednesday on myriad options for leaving the European Union as they sought to end an impasse following the overwhelming defeat of the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May.

The House of Commons has scheduled a five-hour debate on a wide range of alternatives, after which lawmakers will be asked to vote for all of the options they could accept. The plan is for the most popular ideas to move to a second vote on Monday in hopes of finding one option that can command a majority.

The debate comes two days after lawmakers took control of the parliamentary agenda away from the government amid alarm that Britain was heading toward a chaotic Brexit within weeks with no exit plan in place.

May has said she will consider the outcome of the “indicative votes,” though she has refused to be bound by the result. Lawmakers have submitted 16 different options for consideration, though House of Commons Speaker John Bercow is expected to whittle the number down to about half a dozen before debate begins. The proposals include leaving the EU without a deal, remaining in the bloc’s single market and customs union, and holding a new referendum on Britain’s membership in the bloc.

Almost three years after Britons voted to leave the EU, the date and terms of its departure are up in the air. Last week, the EU granted Britain a delay to the scheduled March 29 exit date, saying that if Parliament approved the proposed divorce deal, the U.K. would 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.

May, meanwhile, still hopes to bring the divorce deal that the government struck with the EU back for another vote in the House of Commons — if she can win over enough opponents to ensure passage. Lawmakers rejected the deal by 230 votes in January and by 149 votes earlier this month, primarily because of concerns about the Northern Ireland border.

House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom told the BBC there is a “real possibility” the unpopular agreement will be considered again on Thursday or Friday. Tony Travers, a professor of government at the London School of Economics, said the parliamentary votes could boost support for May’s deal by raising the prospect that Brexit might be delayed or abandoned.

“The very fact that parliament is voting in this indicative way, which could lead via various difficult hurdles to a softer Brexit is convincing a number of hard-line pro-Brexiteers that after all Theresa May’s deal is better than no deal because at least it gets them out of the EU,” Travers said.

Conservative Lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has sought a complete break from the European Union, said May’s deal is still a bad one, but “the risk is, if I don’t back it, we don’t leave the EU at all.”

“I think we have got to the point where legally leaving is better than not leaving at all,” he told the BBC. “Half a loaf is better than no bread.” But Rees-Mogg said he would not back the deal unless Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party decided to vote for it. The DUP, which has 10 seats in the House of Commons, said Tuesday that it still wasn’t prepared to support the “toxic” deal.

Wednesday’s votes in Parliament are likely to produce conflicting and inconclusive results. But they could push Britain in the direction of a softer Brexit that keeps Britain closely tied to the EU. That would probably require the U.K. to seek a longer delay, although that would mean that the country would have to take part in Mya 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. 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 are represented by you in this chamber. Because they are Europeans,” Tusk said. Many Britons — whether they are for Brexit or against it — are simply fed up with the unending political gridlock.

“I think it’s just chaos and I know that they’re just not really handling it well and Theresa May, she’s got her hands full, and she’s trying her best,” said Anna Lopez-Fujimakia a sustainability worker from London.

“I feel bad for her because I can’t think of anybody who would do a better job because there’s not really a good job to be done in this situation.”

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

March 25, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Britain has just a few weeks to break its Brexit impasse, with the fate of the country’s departure from the European Union, and of Prime Minister Theresa May, both hanging in the balance.

Here’s a look at what might happen next:

DEAL OR NO DEAL

With British politicians deadlocked, EU leaders last week granted Britain a two-stage “flextension” to Brexit, which had been due to take place on March 29. Under the new plan, if U.K. lawmakers approve the divorce deal agreed between Britain and the bloc, the country will leave on May 22.

If they defeat it, Britain has until April 12 to tell the EU what it plans to do next: leave without a deal, risking economic chaos, or seek a long delay to Brexit and chart a course toward a softer exit or even remaining in the bloc.

PARLIAMENTARY BATTLE

The battle now shifts back to the British Parliament, which is split down the middle between supporters and opponents of Brexit. Both sides voted in large numbers, twice, to reject May’s Brexit deal. But May wants to try again. She hopes to persuade reluctant pro-Brexit lawmakers that backing her deal is their only hope of leaving soon and in an orderly fashion, and to convince pro-EU legislators that they must choose between her deal and a chaotic no-deal Brexit.

May’s plan was complicated last week when the speaker of the House of Commons said the prime minister couldn’t seek a third vote on her twice-defeated divorce deal unless it was substantially altered.

May is likely to argue that the EU’s extension means circumstances have changed and that ruling should no longer apply.

THE END OF MAY?

British politicians are divided over Brexit, but they agree that the process is in a mess — and many blame May, who has refused to consider alternatives to her deal and failed to win changes to the agreement from the EU.

Many Conservatives are now calling for May to step down. Some pro-Brexit Tories who have so far opposed her deal say they would support it if she promised to hand over the next stage of negotiations — when Britain and the EU will hammer out their future relations — to a new leader.

For now, May is standing firm. Under Conservative rules, May cannot face a formal leadership challenge from within her own party until December because she survived one three months ago.

OTHER OPTIONS

There is little evidence yet that lawmakers’ opinion has shifted strongly in favor of May’s deal. Anti-EU supporters of “hard Brexit” still believe that rejecting it can lead to a no-deal departure from the bloc as soon as April 12.

The Brexiteers are in a minority, but form a powerful bloc in May’s Conservative Party. A larger group in Parliament, from a range of parties, favors a compromise Brexit in which the U.K. keeps close economic ties with the bloc.

These pro-EU lawmakers will try to push through a plan this week that would give members of Parliament control of the House of Commons timetable in order to hold a series of votes on alternative forms of Brexit, to see if there is a majority for any of them.

Proposals could include seeking closer ties with the bloc than May’s deal envisages, or putting the Brexit deal to a public vote.

BYE-BYE BREXIT?

Opposition politicians think the only way forward is an early election that could rearrange Parliament and break the political deadlock. May has ruled that out, but could come to see it as her only option.

And anti-Brexit campaigners haven’t abandoned the idea of a new referendum on remaining in the EU. There’s currently no majority for that in Parliament, but pro-referendum campaigners feel opinion is shifting in their favor. Hundreds of thousands of people marched through London on Saturday to demand a new public vote.

The “nuclear option” of simply canceling Brexit is also gaining support. An online petition urging the government to revoke the decision to leave the EU has amassed more than 5 million signatures.

March 23, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Anti-Brexit protesters swarmed the streets of central London by the tens of thousands on Saturday, demanding that Britain’s Conservative-led government hold a new referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union.

The “People’s Vote March” kicked off shortly after noon and snaked from Park Lane and other locations to converge on the U.K. Parliament, where the fate of Brexit will be decided in the coming weeks. Many marchers carried European Union flags and signs praising the longstanding ties between Britain and continental Europe.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, invited to help lead the march, called the crowd impressive and unified. “There is a huge turnout of people here from all walks of life, of all ages and from all over the country,” he tweeted. “We are a Remain country now with 60 percent wanting to stop the Brexit mess.”

More than 4 million people endorsed an electronic petition this week in favor of revoking Article 50, the act that formally triggered the Brexit process. The march comes as British Prime Minister Theresa May, who opposes a second referendum on Britain’s EU membership, is easing away from plans to hold a third vote on her troubled Brexit withdrawal plan, which has been strongly rejected twice by Parliament.

In a letter to lawmakers on Friday night, May said she might not seek passage of her Brexit withdrawal plan in Parliament next week. The embattled leader said she would only bring her EU divorce plan back to Parliament if there seems to be enough backing for it to pass.

“If it appears that there is not sufficient support to bring the deal back next week, or the House rejects it again, we can ask for another extension before 12 April, but that will involve holding European Parliament elections,” she said.

May’s changing stance reflects the plan’s dismal chances in the House of Commons after two prior defeats. She also says she would need the approval of House Speaker John Bercow to bring the plan back for a third time. Bercow has said a third vote would violate parliamentary rules against repeatedly voting on the same thing unless May’s Brexit divorce plan is altered.

Almost three years after Britons voted to walk away from the EU, the bloc’s leaders this week seized control of the Brexit timetable from May to avert a chaotic departure on March 29 that would be disruptive for the world’s biggest trading bloc and deeply damaging for Britain.

EU leaders at a summit in Brussels set two deadlines for Britain to leave the bloc of nearly half a billion people or to take an entirely new path in considering its EU future. They agreed to extend the Brexit date until May 22, on the eve of the EU Parliament elections, if May can persuade the British Parliament to endorse her Brexit divorce deal.

Failing that, they gave May until April 12 to choose between leaving the bloc without a divorce deal or deciding on a radically new path, such as revoking Britain’s decision to leave, holding a new referendum on Brexit or finding a cross-party consensus for a very different kind of Brexit.

Despite May’s letter to lawmakers, it was not clear what path her minority government would take this week. The anti-Brexit marchers on Saturday included 63-year-old Edmund Sides, who spent the last three weeks walking from Wales to London in order to take part.

Sides, a geologist, said he wanted to be able to speak to people along the way, encouraging families that have been split between Leave and Remain to mend their fences and talk. “The whole country isn’t doing enough of that,” he said.

He is worried about the vicious tone that Brexit arguments have started to take and worries about national cohesion. “People fear the atmosphere is very dangerous in this country,” Sides said.

Danica Kirka contributed to this report.

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