The prime minister of the United Kingdom remained obstinate on Monday in her refusal to extend the Brexit negotiation period despite growing calls from European Union leaders for her to consider the option and maneuvers within parliament in London to undermine her government's plans by forcing a delay through the use of an amendment.
Speaking from the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh following an EU-Arab League summit, Theresa May said she was still convinced her Conservative Party government had time and a parliamentary majority for a Brexit deal that would allow the country to leave the bloc by Mar. 29 in accordance with the two-year negotiation period that begun when she triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in 2017.
"An extension of Article 50, a delay in this process, doesn't deliver a decision in parliament, it doesn't deliver a deal," May told a press conference. "It does precisely what the word delay says, it just delays the point at which we come to that decision," she added.
Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, the UK's lower chamber of lawmaking, overwhelmingly rejected May's withdrawal deal, the product of 18 months of negotiations with the EU, in a so-called meaningful vote in January before passing an amendment forcing her to return to Brussels in search of legal changes to the Irish backstop.
A sort of insurance policy, the backstop seeks to avoid a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit but the terms and conditions of the clause raised eyebrows on May's Tory backbenches and in the Democratic Unionist Party, a Northern Irish group that props up her minority executive. Both feared it could indefinitely bind the UK to EU regulation.
May announced a second meaningful vote would be held in the Commons before Mar. 12. "We have it within our grasp, I've had a real sense from the meetings I've had here, the conversations I've had with EU leaders in recent days, a real sense that we can achieve that deal," May said. "It's within our grasp to leave on the 29th of March." The view from the continent, however, was slightly less optimistic.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, who was also in Sharm al-Sheikh, said that if there was no majority for May's plan in the Commons, the UK would increasingly be faced with choosing between a no-deal Brexit or the prospect of postponing the withdrawal process by extending Article 50.
"The less time there is until Mar. 29, the greater is the likelihood of an extension," Tusk said. "And this is an objective fact; not our intention, nor out plan, but an objective fact," he added.
"I believe that in the situation we are in, an extension would be a rational solution, but Prime Minister May still believes that she is able to avoid this scenario," he said.
The Dutch PM Mark Rutte shared the opinion that the EU would be receptive to any decision from the UK government to extend the negotiation period and, speaking to the BBC on the sidelines of the summit, also warned the UK against "sleepwalking into a no deal scenario."
On Jan. 15, May suffered the largest parliamentary defeat of any head of government in the UK's democratic era when a majority of 230 shot down her deal in a meaningful vote, including 118 members of her own party.
If she fails to secure any legally-binding changes in Brussels – the EU has already said it would not renegotiate the pact – then history could repeat itself.
But there was yet another potential obstacle to her plan, in the form of a parliamentary amendment.
The so-called Cooper amendment, named after opposition Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who tabled it, could force the PM to seek an extension should she fail to garner enough support for her deal by mid-March.
MPs are due to cast their vote on the amendment on Wednesday.
Its success would sooth concerns among MPs looking to once again vote down May's deal, which the PM has presented as the only alternative to a no-deal scenario, which neither the UK nor the EU wants.
In Sharm al-Sheikh, May refused to comment on whether she would fire cabinet ministers who decided to vote in favor of the Cooper amendment.
Brexit has sharply divided both major UK parties, the conservatives and the leading opposition Labour Party.
May needed to win the support of the European Research Group, an affiliation of pro-Brexit Tory MPs pushing for a harder exit, and the DUP, which has warned it would not support a deal that could see it kept in customary alignment with the EU to avoid a hard border.
Jeremy Corbyn, the left-leaning leader of Labour, was also contending with anti-Brexit members of his own parliamentary group, at least nine of whom have quit in order to sit as independents in the so-called Independent Group in protest against his perceived failure to block Brexit as well has his failure to deal with alleged antisemitism in the party.
The UK electorate narrowly voted to leave the EU in a referendum in June 2016 which was called by the former Tory leader David Cameron, who quit the day after the vote.
Just over a year later, May sought to consolidate her Brexit mandate with a snap general election. She lost her majority and now relied on the DUP to pass legislation.
The leader of the United Kingdom's main opposition on Monday said his Labour Party would table or support a second referendum on Brexit in a move that could deal a significant blow to the prime minister's bid to secure a parliamentary majority for her withdrawal agreement.
Jeremy Corbyn said his party would table amendments designed to make Theresa May's Conservative Party government adopt his alternative Brexit plan, which includes staying in a customs union, but would also propose or support another amendment on a second public vote.
"One way or another we will do everything in our power to prevent no deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May's overwhelmingly rejected deal," Corbyn told Labour Members of Parliament.
"That's why, in line with our conference policy we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favor of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country," he added.