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UK PM suffers setbacks as Brexit debate starts in parliament

British PM suffers setbacks as Brexit debate opens in parliament

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered embarrassing defeats on Tuesday at the start of five days of debate over her plans to leave the European Union that could determine the future of Brexit and the fate of her government.

Mrs May wants to secure parliament's approval for her deal to keep close ties with the EU after leaving in March, but opposition is fierce, with Brexit supporters and opponents alike wanting to thwart or derail her plan.

On the first day of debate, before the main vote on Dec 11, her government was found in contempt of parliament and then a group of her own Conservative Party lawmakers won a challenge to hand more power to the House of Commons if her deal is voted down.

That could reduce the likelihood of Britain leaving the EU without any deal, prompting sterling to recover some of its losses after the vote on contempt drove it down to levels not seen since June last year.

The debates and final vote on Dec 11 will determine how, and possibly even if, Britain leaves the EU as planned on March 29, in the country's biggest shift in foreign and trade policy in more than 40 years.

Mrs May's plans are vulnerable to more change at the end of the debate, and advice from a senior EU legal aide that Britain had the right to withdraw its Brexit notice opened yet another front in her battle to win the approval of parliament.

Mrs May told parliament: "We need to deliver a Brexit that respects the decision of the British people.

"This argument has gone on long enough. It is corrosive to our politics and life depends on compromise."

If lawmakers do not back her deal, Mrs May says, they could open the door either to Britain falling out of the EU without measures to soften the transition or to the possibility that Brexit does not happen.

GET A BETTER DEAL

The opposition Labour Party said Mrs May needed to get a better deal or step aside and let them govern.

"We still don't know what our long-term relationship with Europe would look like and that's why so many MPs (members of parliament) across parliament are not willing to vote for this blindfold Brexit and take a leap in the dark about Britain's future," Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told parliament.

Anxious to prevent a "no-deal" Brexit, a group of mainly pro-EU lawmakers from the Conservative Party won a vote to make sure parliament gets more power to dictate any next steps the government takes if her exit plan fails.

For them, there may be another way out. The formal advice from a European Court of Justice advocate general - not binding but usually heeded by the court - suggested to some lawmakers that revoking the "Article 50" divorce notice was an option.

"It's a false choice to say it's the PM's deal or chaos,"said Conservative lawmaker Sam Gyimah, who quit as a minister on Friday over Mrs May's deal.

"We should look at all the options and not be boxed in by our own red lines."

But Mrs May's spokesman told reporters: "It does nothing in any event to change the clear position of the government that Article 50 is not going to be revoked." - REUTERS

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