EU ‘willing to help’ if May loses — up to a point

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – If British Prime Minister Theresa May loses a vote in parliament on her divorce agreement with the European Union next week, EU leaders won’t rip it up and start negotiating again — but they could help her try to win a second bout.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street, London, Britain, December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

That help, in the form of new clarifications of how the deal would work or perhaps even small tweaks to agreed text, will not convince the massed ranks of May’s opponents, who see the deal as either too much Brexit or too little. But it would be aimed at winning over enough waverers to salvage the accord.

Senior EU diplomats hope Tuesday’s vote will be close and May can return to parliament and win a second vote. In such a case they could consider helping her with “cosmetic” changes to the non-binding political agreement that accompanies the deal.

But even then, the legally binding text itself, which forms the crux of the debate in Britain, would be off limits to renegotiation. And if a ‘no’ vote in the British parliament is overwhelming, May would be on her own.

    “Much will depend on the numbers. If she is short of 15, 30 or 40 votes, we could think of a gesture to let her try again,” said one EU official.

Failure in the vote will transform the quarterly EU summit to be held in Brussels next Thursday and Friday into a “Brexit crisis” meeting, officials say — though the timing may mean it is too soon for May to tell fellow leaders much more than that she has failed at her first attempt and needs more time.

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