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3 UK ministers back Brexit delay to stop no-deal exit

LONDON Three British Cabinet ministers publicly indicated on Saturday that they will back plans to delay Brexit if lawmakers vote down Prime Minister Theresa May's plan for a new deal with the European Union.

Business Secretary Greg Clark, Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd, and Justice Secretary David Gauke signalled in a Daily Mail column that they will side with rebels and opposition parties next week to stop Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal on March 29 if necessary, adding their weight to calls for Mrs May to rule out a no-deal departure.

Mrs May is struggling against the clock to get a deal with Brussels on Britain's exit from the world's largest trading bloc that will pass parliamentary muster. She met European Council president Donald Tusk on the sidelines of an EU-League of Arab States summit yesterday, but EU diplomats were not expecting any imminent breakthrough.

In the newspaper column headlined "If we don't get a deal next week we must delay Brexit", Mr Clark, Ms Rudd and Mr Gauke wrote that a no-deal exit was a risk to business, security and British territorial unity, and accused some colleagues in Parliament of complacency.

"Far from Brexit resulting in a newly independent United Kingdom stepping boldly into the wider world, crashing out on March 29 would see us poorer, less secure and potentially splitting up," they said, referring to the threat of a new bid for Scottish independence from Britain.

"Our economy will be damaged severely both in the short and the long term. Costs will increase, businesses that rely on just-in-time supply chains will be severely disrupted and investment will be discouraged," they wrote.

They called on the European Research Group, formed by Conservative pro-Brexit lawmakers, to back the government's deal in Parliament or risk seeing Brexit delayed.

But in a further sign of deep division over the issue, Mr May's junior minister for Northern Ireland, Mr John Penrose, wrote a column in the Sunday Telegraph saying removing the option of a no-deal departure on March 29 "could torpedo Brexit completely".

He said such a move could lead to further temporary extensions that "would become permanent". - REUTERS

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