UK PM on Collision Course Over Brexit

UK PM on Collision Course Over Brexit

LONDON (AP) -- British Prime Minister Theresa May sought to seal business support for her Brexit deal with the European Union on Monday, but remained on a collision course with a group of lawmakers seeking to unseat her.

The draft agreement has triggered an avalanche of criticism in Britain and left May fighting to keep her job.

She said in a speech to business lobby group the Confederation of British Industry that the deal "fulfils the wishes of the British people" to leave the EU, by taking back control of the U.K.'s laws, money and borders.

May's Downing St. office confirmed the government's plan to end the automatic right of EU citizens to live and work in the U.K., saying Britain's future immigration policy will be based on skills, rather than nationality.

"It will no longer be the case that EU nationals, regardless of the skills or experience they have to offer, can jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi," May said.

The deal sealed last week between Britain and the EU after a year and a half of tense negotiations has infuriated pro-Brexit lawmakers in May's Conservative Party and sparked a leadership crisis. The Brexiteers want a clean break with the bloc and argue that the close trade ties called for in the agreement will leave Britain a vassal state, bound to EU rules it has no say in making.

Two Cabinet ministers, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, resigned in protest, and rebels are trying to gather the signatures of 48 lawmakers needed to trigger a no-confidence vote.

One of the rebels, Simon Clarke, on Monday urged wavering colleagues to help trigger a leadership challenge.

"It is quite clear to me that the captain is driving the ship at the rocks," Clarke said.

Even if May sees off a leadership challenge, she still has to get the deal approved by Parliament. Her Conservatives don't have a parliamentary majority, and it's not clear whether she can persuade enough lawmakers to back her agreement.

May argues that abandoning the plan, with Britain's withdrawal just over four months away on March 29, could lead to a disorderly and economically damaging "no deal" Brexit — or to a situation in which Britain's exit from the EU is postponed indefinitely.

Some Conservative Brexiteers, including Raab, say May should stay in post but try to renegotiate the deal — something May and other EU leaders insist is impossible.

EU negotiator Michel Barnier said EU ministers confirmed that view early Monday. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said Monday that "the withdrawal treaty is as good as it will get," while Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn also said there is "no better" Brexit deal for Britain.

"We must make it understood today that this deal which is now on the table is the best one possible. There is no better one for this crazy Brexit," Asselborn said as EU foreign ministers met in Brussels before a leaders' summit on Sunday at which the bloc intends to sign off on the deal.

Barnier said the EU ministers also agreed the principle of a one-off extension of the transition period which is supposed to be limited to the end of 2020 at this stage. Barnier didn't want to put a specific date on the period though.

"All governments have agreed to the principle of a possible extension," he said.

While the 585-page, legally binding withdrawal agreement is complete, Britain and the EU hope this week to flesh out their far less detailed seven-page declaration on future relations.

"A painful week in European politics is starting," said Austria's minister for Europe, Gernot Bluemel. "We have the divorce papers on the table; 45 years of difficult marriage are coming to an end."