LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Theresa May insisted Wednesday that Britain will leave the European Union on schedule next month, while the head of a major business organization said May's grudging decision to allow lawmakers to vote to delay Brexit provides an "option on sanity."
May bowed to pressure from within her own Conservative government on Tuesday and gave Parliament the chance to delay Britain's scheduled March 29 departure if lawmakers fail to approve her divorce agreement with the bloc.
May stressed that she personally opposes extending the Brexit deadline, and said "the United Kingdom remains on course to leave the European Union with a deal" if lawmakers "hold their nerve." Writing in the Daily Mail, May said talks with the EU about securing changes to the divorce deal to make it more palatable to Parliament have "begun to bear fruit."
The House of Commons rejected May's deal with the EU last month — largely over concerns about a provision to guarantee an open border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland — and sent May back to Brussels to get changes.
The EU is adamant that the legally binding withdrawal agreement can't be changed, though the bloc's negotiators are holding talks with U.K. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox about potential tweaks or additions around the margins.
On Tuesday, May gave Parliament a greater say over Brexit to forestall a rebellion by pro-EU members of her government, who threatened to quit and vote with the opposition in order to rule out a disruptive "no-deal" Brexit.
She said Parliament will get to vote again on the deal by March 12. If it is rejected, lawmakers will then vote on whether to leave the EU without an agreement or seek to postpone Brexit by up to three months.
The move angered pro-Brexit lawmakers, who fear any postponement could be a step toward stopping Britain's departure.
It was welcomed, however, by pro-EU members of Britain's divided Parliament. They will try to impose more conditions on the government's Brexit negotiating strategy in a series of votes on Wednesday.
British businesses also welcomed the prospect of a delay. They warn that without a deal, Britain risks a chaotic departure that could disrupt trade between the U.K. and the EU, its biggest trading partner
Confederation of British Industry head Carolyn Fairbairn said neither business nor the government is ready to leave, and exiting without a deal would be "a wrecking ball on our economy."
Delaying Brexit would require approval from all 27 other EU countries, and some leaders in the bloc say Britain must have a good reason for seeking a pause.
Michael Roth, a German deputy foreign minister, said Berlin would want to see "something substantially new" put on the table to justify delaying Brexit.
Roth told ZDF television that "if we can really achieve something new with a delay, and if we then reach a sensible decision, we are the last people who will stand in the way."
Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this story.