UK ramps up no-deal preparations as hope for May’s deal dwindles

LONDON — Theresa May is back at work after the holidays — but, as the British prime minister is fond of saying, nothing has changed.

May left Westminster in December assuring MPs she was working on new, last minute add-ons to the Brexit deal that the U.K. parliament is due to ratify in two weeks’ time, ahead of the country’s scheduled legal exit from the EU in just 12 weeks.

Having pulled the vote once already, May is now in the last-chance saloon. She has spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and is expected to make more diplomatic calls with her European counterparts ahead of the recommencement of parliamentary debate on her deal next week.

But Brussels says no substantial renegotiation is even taking place, and key Brexit-supporting MPs, including the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party which props up her government, remain unconvinced.

It is fear of no deal, May seems to have calculated, that is her best card.

If cosmetic changes to her deal don’t change minds, May’s only hope is persuading MPs on either side of the Brexit divide to back her deal for fear of the alternatives — “no deal, or no Brexit,” as she puts it. “No Brexit” would require a second referendum which, despite increased momentum behind the idea, is still not backed by the leadership of either of the two main parties.

So it is fear of no deal, May seems to have calculated, that is her best card, and one that she and her ministers will talk up incessantly between now and the vote planned for the week beginning January 14.

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