Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is shown in a blue jacket and scarf walking out of 10 Downing Street to a car.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street, as she faces a vote on her Brexit "plan B," in London.


Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Britain's Parliament on Tuesday will try to shape the future of the country's exit from the European Union by debating and voting on what changes they want to seek to Prime Minister Theresa May deal.

May will ask her Conservative Party lawmakers to send a message to Brussels that they would support her Brexit deal if a plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland is replaced.

With exactly two months until Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, there is no agreement yet in London on how and even whether to leave the world's biggest trading bloc after May's plan was rejected by an overwhelming majority in parliament.

On Tuesday, May will address parliament before about five hours of debate on her future plans, setting out why she believes lawmakers should back steps to reopen the agreement with the EU and renegotiate the so-called backstop.

Brussels has repeatedly said it does not want to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, which has been signed off by the other 27 EU leaders, and has said there must be a guarantee to ensure there is no return to a hard border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

May's spokesman said her strategy had won the backing of her cabinet.

"The prime minister said that in order to win the support of the House of Commons legal changes to the backstop will be required, that would mean reopening the Withdrawal Agreement," he told reporters.

It is not a foregone conclusion that lawmakers will back the proposal or amendment authored by senior Conservative lawmaker Graham Brady to call for the backstop to be removed and replaced with "alternative arrangements" during a series of votes taking place on Tuesday.

Tuesday's votes are not a rerun of the Jan. 15 vote on whether to approve May's Brexit deal, but a chance to discover what sort of changes would be required to win the support of parliament, so the prime minister can try to renegotiate the agreement in Brussels.

Other lawmakers are also looking at ways to wrest control of Brexit from the government, with the main opposition Labour Party throwing its weight behind a bid by Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper, increasing its chances of success.

Another faction, led by both Conservative pro-EU and pro-Brexit lawmakers, are trying to come up with a new plan for Brexit —  to return to Brussels with two new options.

It calls for the backstop to be renegotiated or if that fails to leave on World Trade Organization rules at the end of 2021.

Clear message

Strong support for the Brady amendment will allow May to demonstrate to the EU that changes to the backstop could be enough to allow her to get parliamentary approval for a deal.    

"If the prime minister indicates in the debate that she will be pressing Brussels to reopen the WA (Withdrawal Agreement) to make changes to the backstop, I will gladly support the Brady amendment," former foreign secretary and prominent Brexiter Boris Johnson said on Twitter.

The EU's deputy chief negotiator Sabine Weyand said on Monday the bloc was "open to alternative arrangements" on the Irish border but that Brady's proposal did not spell out what they were.

Brady's amendment is not certain to pass, as a group of prominent pro-Brexit Conservative lawmakers have said they are yet to decide whether they will support it.

The small Northern Irish party which props up May's minority government but opposes her deal, said the contents of May's speech to lawmakers on Tuesday will determine whether it will support the amendment.

Lawmakers have proposed more than 10 different amendments to be debated on Tuesday but only a small number are likely to be chosen to be voted on.

Aside from Brady's proposal, the other key amendment expected to garner a large amount of support, possibly enough to be approved by parliament, is one put forward by Cooper.

Cooper's amendment seeks to shift control of Brexit from May's government to parliament and if successful could have a profound effect, giving lawmakers who want to block, delay or renegotiate Brexit a possible legal route to do so.

If a subsequent piece of legislation is passed, it would give May until Feb. 26 to get a deal approved by parliament or face a vote on whether to ask the EU to delay Britain's exit to  avoid leaving without a deal on March 29.

By Kylie MacLellan, William James and Elizabeth Piper/Reuters

Additional reporting by Andy Bruce and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean.

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