Britain's Opposition leader raises prospect of new Brexit referendum

British Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party moved a step closer to paving the way for another referendum on European Union membership by trying to use Parliament to grab control of Brexit from Prime Minister Theresa May.

PM says another vote would strengthen the hand of those seeking to break up the U.K.

Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party's amendment would 'allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a no deal.' (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP)

British Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party moved a step closer to paving the way for another referendum on European Union membership by trying to use Parliament to grab control of Brexit from Prime Minister Theresa May.

With the clock ticking down to March 29, the date set in law for Brexit, the United Kingdom is in the deepest political crisis in half a century as it grapples with how, or even whether, to exit the European project it joined in 1973.

After May's divorce deal with the EU was rejected by 432-202 lawmakers last week, the biggest defeat in modern British history, some lawmakers are trying to take control of Brexit from May's weakened minority government.

Labour put forward an amendment seeking to force the government to give Parliament time to consider and vote on options to prevent a "no deal" exit — a course May has repeatedly refused to rule out.

Among the options, Labour said, should be a permanent customs union with the EU and a public vote on a deal — both proposals that May has ruled out.

The party, which is divided over Brexit, said the proposal did not mean that it supported a second vote and merely reflected its existing policy.

"It is time for Labour's alternative plan to take centre stage, while keeping all options on the table, including the option of a public vote," said Corbyn, who put his name to the amendment.

"Our amendment will allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a no deal," he said.

However, it was unclear whether the Labour amendment would garner support in Parliament or which of the various options it mentioned would be ultimately become Labour's favoured course.

As the British Parliament, which traces its roots through 1,000 years of history, tries to avoid what most lawmakers think would be a disorderly Brexit without an approved deal, there is still no clear majority for an alternative option.

Lawmakers will debate and vote on the next steps on Jan. 29. The speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, will decide which amendments are voted on.

Theresa May unveiled her 'Plan B' for Brexit on Monday, prompting the opposition leader to say that the British prime minister appears to be in 'deep denial' about how the deal will fare. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

May on Monday proposed tweaking her deal, a bid to win over rebel Conservative lawmakers and the Northern Irish party which props up her government, but Labour said May was in denial about the crushing defeat of her plans.

She said another referendum would strengthen the hand of those seeking to break up the United Kingdom and could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in democracy.

Ever since the U.K. voted by 52-48 per cent to leave the EU in June 2016, British politicians have failed to find agreement on how or even whether to leave the EU.

Without an approved deal or an alternative, the world's fifth largest economy will move to basic World Trade Organization rules on March 29,  a nightmare scenario for manufacturers dependent on delicate supply chains which stretch across Europe and beyond.

Company chiefs are shocked at the political crisis and say it has already damaged Britain's reputation as Europe's pre-eminent destination for foreign investment.

"Brexit is the most stupid economic decision for a long time, the worst thing that can happen," Kasper Rorsted, boss of German sportswear firm Adidas, told the Suddeutsche Zeitung in an interview.

Asked if Brexit could be averted, he said: "I think the train has already left the station. Emotionally, I hope that all parties can come to their senses."

Supporters of Brexit say that while there may be some short term disruption, the warnings of chaos are overblown and that in the long term, the United Kingdom will thrive if it cuts loose from what they cast as a doomed German-dominated experiment in European unity.

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