May scrambles to seek business support for EU deal

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Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May speaks about Brexit in the House of Commons, in central London. Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May will seek to win support from business leaders for her contentious draft European Union divorce deal on Monday as dissenters in her own party scrambled to trigger a leadership challenge.

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Ms May has had a tumultuous few days since unveiling her deal on Wednesday last week, with several ministers, including her Brexit minister, resigning and some of her own members of parliament seeking to oust her.

The British leader has vowed to fight on, on Sunday warning that toppling her risked delaying Britain’s EU exit, and has said the future partnership agreement will help ensure the government delivers on the 2016 Brexit vote.

Ms May will defend her deal in a speech to the CBI business lobby group’s annual conference on Monday, saying Britain would embark on an intense week of Brexit negotiations to try to thrash out the details of its outline future relationship with the EU.

“We now have an intense week of negotiations ahead of us in the run-up to the special European Council on Sunday,” Ms May will say, according to advance extracts.

“During that time I expect us to hammer out the full and final details of the framework that will underpin our future relationship and I am confident that we can strike a deal at the council that I can take back to the House of Commons.”

More than two years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU; it is still unclear how, on what terms or even if it will leave as planned on March 29, 2019 with business leaders fearful that Britain could leave the bloc with no deal in place.

Ms May will say the withdrawal agreement set out last week, which has been strongly criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the EU debate meaning it will struggle to win the backing of parliament, is a good deal for Britain.

However, Brexit-supporting rebels in her own Conservative party who believe the deal will leave Britain in indefinite subjugation to the EU are attempting to trigger a confidence vote in her leadership.

The United Kingdom could ask for a longer Brexit transition period if needed, Business Secretary Greg Clark said yesterday, not ruling out the possibility it could last until 2022.

The United Kingdom is due to formally leave the EU on March 29, 2019 but a planned transition period means it will remain a member in all but name until the end of December 2020.

Asked on BBC radio about an extension to the transition period, Mr Clark said: “It would be at our request.”

“It would be our discretion, it would be purely for us if we wanted to and there are reasons we may not want to take that up, it would be available to us,” he said. He did not rule out a suggestion that it could last until 2022.

“If we were six weeks away from concluding a future economic partnership and agreeing that then it may make sense to extend the transition period,” Mr Clark said.

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