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British PM faces new battle in Parliament over Brexit

The British government is facing another knife-edge vote in Parliament over how much control lawmakers should have in the country's departure from the European Union.

Pro-EU lawmakers seek more power for House to block no-deal Brexit

The British Parliament votes Wednesday on competing versions of a bill that spells out how much say they will have on the government's Brexit bill. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

The British government is facing another knife-edge vote in Parliament over how much control lawmakers should have in the country's departure from the European Union. 

The House of Commons is debating a proposal Wednesday that would make the government get Parliament's approval before agreeing to a final divorce deal with the EU. 

Prime Minister Theresa May faced rebellion last week from pro-EU lawmakers in the governing Conservative Party, but avoided defeat by promising Parliament would get a "meaningful vote" on the U.K.-EU divorce agreement before Brexit occurs next March. 

On the table are two similar technical definitions of what that promise means: one proposed by the government, and one proposed by a pro-EU member of May's Conservative Party, Dominic Grieve. 

Parliament will decide which version to approve later on Wednesday in what is expected to be a very tight vote. 

Here is a summary of what is agreed, and where differences remain.

Agreed

  • Once the government has agreed a Brexit deal with the EU, it will present that deal in parliament and allow lawmakers to approve or reject it.
  • If that deal is rejected by parliament, or if the government decides no deal is possible, or if a deal has not been reached by Jan. 21, 2019, the government has to come up with a new plan of action and present it to parliament.

Not agreed

  • The government says parliament should be allowed to debate the plan on next steps, but not to amend the plan. They argue this would bind the government's hands in negotiations, which May and her team say is unacceptable.
  • The rival amendment says parliament should be able to debate the plan on next steps and amend it if necessary. Its backers argue that this would not bind the government's hands, and is necessary to make the vote on the final Brexit deal truly meaningful.

The real power of the rebel amendment is political. It paves the way for lawmakers to explicitly endorse an alternative to May's plan.

If parliament does that, it would be hugely damaging for May and make it very difficult for an already weakened leader to follow through with her long-standing promise to leave the EU without an agreed exit deal unless Brussels agrees to a "good deal." 

Anything that decreases the probability of a "no deal" scenario will be welcomed by most businesses, who fear the disruption of an unmanaged and abrupt exit. 

With files from Reuters

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