British Prime Minister battles to bring Brexiteers onside before March 29 deadline

LONDON (AFP) – Britain’s government scrambled yesterday to convince Brexit hardliners to give in at last and back Prime Minister Theresa May’s European Union (EU) divorce deal, though key opponents were refusing to blink.

With less than two weeks to go until a potentially chaotic departure on March 29 that could trigger an economic shock, May was struggling to turn the trickle of Brexiteers coming onside into a flood.

Members of Parliament (MPs) have twice heavily rejected the divorce agreement.

If they can back a deal by tomorrow, then May will head to the EU summit in Brussels tomorrow and Thursday and seek a short technical delay to Brexit until June 30.

If MPs cannot rally round a deal, she will seek a long delay beyond that date.

May will not bring the deal back before Parliament unless she feels sure of enough votes to win.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said there were “cautious signs of encouragement” but admitted there was a “huge amount of work to do” to win over hardcore Brexiteers.

All eyes are on Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which May’s Conservatives rely upon for a majority in Parliament, and the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative Brexiteers, both of which have so far rejected the deal.

European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels for pre-summit talks yesterday were broadly supportive of granting a delay but questioned its purpose.