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EU lawmakers urge Britain to call off Brexit

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In an open letter quoted by newspapers belonging to Germany's Funke media group Monday, more than 100 European parliamentarians called on the United Kingdom to call off Brexit, saying such a decision would be welcome in the EU.

The draft letter is expected to be published in Britain a day before a crucial vote in the British parliament on Prime Minister Theresa May's draft Brexit deal, which observers are expecting to fail.

Later on Monday, the situation became even more untenable for May when Conservative whip Gareth Jonhson, tasked with maintaining discipline in the party ahead of the vote, tendered his resignation. "I cannot, in all conscience, support the government's position," Johnson wrote, adding that it was "detrimental to our nation's interests."

What the EU lawmakers said:

  • "It is much better to reform the European Union than to leave...the European Union."
  • "Any British decision to stay in the EU would be greatly welcomed by us."
  • "We would work with you to reform and improve the European Union."
  • "(We have) greatly valued the tremendous influence of British politicians and citizens over the past 40 years."
  • "We would miss the extraordinary expertise of our British colleagues."
Read more: Opinion: Britain's hour of destiny

Welcome to stay

Peter Liese, MEP and Christian Democratic Union lawmaker in the center-right European People's Party (EPP), told the Funke news group: "We want to send a signal to the people and, as such, to the House of Commons and make it clear that if the British decide to stay, they are welcome."

Manfred Weber, also of the EPP, told DW that the chaos of the past two years had taught both the EU and the UK that "it is much better to reform the European Union than to leave...the European Union," because Britain was creating "so much damage" for itself, while the EU was being brought closer together by the Brexit process.

Read more: No Brexit renegotiation, Angela Merkel tells Bundestag

Within Germany, industry leaders have warned of the dire consequences of a no-deal Brexit.

Eric Schweitzer, president of the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: "In Germany, about 750,000 jobs depend on trade with the United Kingdom. Without a deal, millions of additional customs declarations and billions of custom duties would need to be paid."

Temporary measures

In a separate letter, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker provided the British government with further assurances that a backstop to prevent a hard border in Ireland was a temporary provision.

"The Commission can confirm that, just like the United Kingdom, the European Union does not wish to see the backstop enter into force," the letter said. "The Commission can also confirm the European Union's determinate to replace the backstop solution on Northern Ireland by a subsequent agreement that would ensure the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing."

But the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a junior coalition partner in May's government, said the EU's letter providing reassurances about the backstop did not go far enough to secure the draft Brexit deal.

"The letter isn't legally binding," DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds told British broadcaster BBC. "The prime minister will struggle to justify what the delay was about."

Crucial vote

The UK's House of Commons is scheduled to hold a pivotal vote on May's Brexit plans on Tuesday. But observers believe she doesn't have enough support to make it through.

Some British lawmakers have suggested extending the Brexit deadline, which is currently set for March 29. But Manfred Weber, lead candidate for the European People's Party, said that such an extension should not go beyond European parliamentary elections slated for May.

Read more: Germany pledges full EU support for Ireland over Brexit

May's last stand

As the UK prepares for a decisive vote on May's draft deal, the prime minister spoke to factory workers in Stoke-on-Trent, a post-industrial town that voted overwhelmingly for Brexit.

During her speech, she said she believes British lawmakers will opt to remain in the EU instead of crash out of the bloc without a deal.

"There are some in Westminster who would wish to delay or even stop Brexit and who will use every device available to them to do so," May said. She called on lawmakers to "consider the consequences of their actions on the faith of the British people in our democracy."

Read more: Opinion: What happened to Brexit architect David Cameron?

In a last ditch attempt to win over the British parliament, May admitted that the deal "is not perfect, and yes, it is a compromise" but urged lawmakers to give it "a second look."

"When the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this House tomorrow and ask: Did we deliver on the country's vote to leave the European Union? Did we safeguard our economy, our security and our Union. Or did we let the British people down?" May told the House of Commons.

"I say we should deliver for the British people, and get on with building a better future for our country by backing this deal, and I commend this statement to the House," May concluded.

ls, es/msh (AFP, dpa)

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