LONDON — The British government said Monday that frenzied last-minute diplomacy had won “legally binding changes” to overcome a roadblock in its BREXIT deal with the E.U., hours before Parliament was due to decide the fate of Prime Minister Theresa May’s hard-won agreement and of Britain’s departure from the EU.
On the eve of Tuesday's vote, May flew to the French city of Strasbourg, where EU legislators were meeting, for nighttime talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The prime minister was seeking revisions, guarantees or other changes to persuade reluctant British legislators to back her withdrawal agreement with the EU, which they resoundingly rejected in January.
The EU is unwilling to reopen an agreement it spent a year and a half negotiating, while British legislators remain split over whether to leave the bloc and, if so, on what terms.
Britain is due to pull out of the EU in less than three weeks, on March 29, but the government has not been able to win parliamentary approval for its agreement with the bloc on withdrawal terms and future relations. The impasse has raised fears of a chaotic "no-deal" Brexit that could mean major disruption for businesses and people in Britain and the 27 remaining EU countries.
May has staked her political reputation on securing an exit deal with the EU and is under mounting pressure to quit if it is defeated again. She survived a bid to oust her through a no-confidence vote in December. As a result, she cannot be forced from office for a year.
The EU is frustrated at what it sees as the inability of Britain's weak and divided government to lay out a clear vision for Brexit. It is irritated, too, that Britain is seeking changes to an agreement that May herself helped negotiate.
May has been working frantically to save her deal, speaking by phone to eight EU national leaders since Friday, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel said Monday that Juncker and Barnier had made "a multitude of suggestions" over the weekend on the backstop. "I think that an important offer has again been made to Britain, and now it is of course for Britain to respond to these offers," she said.
If Parliament throws out May's deal again on Tuesday, lawmakers will vote over the following two days on whether to leave the EU without an agreement an idea likely to be rejected or to ask the EU to delay Brexit beyond the scheduled March 29 departure date.
May warned last week that any delay could mean "we may never leave the EU at all."
Finally, the House of Commons is going to have to make a final judgment on what it wants in terms of Brexit.