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British MPs' break scrapped as Brexit clock ticks down


AFP London
The British government announced Thursday it was scrapping MPs' February holiday in the rush to get ready for Brexit on March 29 but hinted it may need extra time amid chaos and confusion over strategy.
In a rare move, MPs were warned to ditch their holiday plans in order to cram through vital legislation over the next two months as Britain careers towards the EU exit door after 46 years of membership.
British lawmakers have not had their holidays pulled since they were recalled from their 2013 summer break to debate the escalating conflict in Syria.
After two years of tortuous talks following the seismic 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union, the two sides still do not have a withdrawal pact agreed - which means Britain could crash out of the bloc in political and economic turmoil.
"We are determined to have everything in place in order for us to leave on March 29 this year," Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman told reporters.
"The fact that recess won't be taking place and MPs will be sitting shows ls you that we are taking all available steps to make sure that March 29 is our exit date." Parliament's lower House of Commons was expected be off from February 15 to 24 inclusive.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested that extra time might be needed if a divorce deal was approved only days before the Brexit deadline.
Any delay must be agreed by the other 27 EU countries.
Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said it would be tough to extend the timeframe.
"It's very difficult to imagine that there can be a tremendous breakthrough -- a magic solution - in the next few days in order also to have this ratified in due time," she told BBC radio.
European leaders are slamming the door shut on May's bid to rewrite the divorce deal, warning they will not budge.
Having thrown out the withdrawal agreement May negotiated with the EU, divided British lawmakers voted Tuesday to send her back to Brussels to get an Irish border "backstop" clause removed.
The backstop could see Britain tied to the bloc's trade rules to keep open the border with EU member Ireland.
Emboldened by a mandate to seek to rewrite the rejected agreement, May said it was a chance to prevent Britain crashing out of the EU on March 29 with no deal in place.
Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons - the minister responsible for arranging British government business - told the chamber on Thursday to prepare for working through February.
"Our constituents will expect that the house is able to continue to make progress at this important time," she said.
Leadsom also suggested that all the necessary legislation could be brought through before exit day.
"We are under pressure but it's all very much under control and we do expect to achieve what we need to do by March 29," she said.
Besides cancelling the parliamentary recess, the government is heading towards extending parliamentary sitting hours to allow more time to debate Brexit legislation.
There are still seven laws needed to prepare for Brexit - not just concerning any overall divorce deal but also issues such as trade, agriculture and immigration. Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday reiterated his call for the government to resign and trigger a general election.
Opposition Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said the scrapped holiday showed the government was in a "desperate position as a result of their own chaotic planning". He said May must "accept reality" and seek to delay Brexit.

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First Published: Jan 31 2019 | 8:15 PM IST

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