LONDON -- British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday unveiled a new plan for Britain to exit the European Union, but critics said it's too much like the old plan.
"This really does feel a bit like Groundhog Day," opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said, referring to the 1993 film in which a weatherman is stuck reliving the same day over and over again.
May told lawmakers on Monday that even though Parliament last week defeated her proposal to leave the bloc by a vote of 432-202 -- one of the biggest defeats for a British government in modern history -- she still hoped to win them over with her proposed changes.
May had said she would consult with lawmakers from all parties to find a new version of the deal, but the Labor Party's Corbyn called the cross-party meetings a "stunt" and refused to attend. May, in turn, said her efforts were not working because of Corbyn's absence.
The prime minister on Monday promised to consult lawmakers, trade unionists, business groups and civil society organizations "to try to find the broadest possible consensus" on future ties between Britain and the EU, and said the government wouldn't water down protections for the environment and workers' rights after it leaves the bloc.
May also said the government had decided to waive an $84 fee for EU citizens in Britain who want to stay permanently after the split from Europe.
Guy Verhofstadt, the head of the EU Parliament's group negotiating the exit with Britain, welcomed news that the fee was being dropped for 3 million EU nationals, saying it had been a "key demand" for the EU legislature.
But many lawmakers consider those changes cosmetic. Sarah Wollaston, a member of May's Conservative Party, wrote on Twitter that it was "like last week's vote never happened."
"Plan B is Plan A," she said.
May's immediate goal is to win over members of her own party and the Conservatives' Northern Ireland ally, the Democratic Unionist Party. Both groups say they won't back the deal unless it removes an insurance policy known as the border backstop.
The backstop proposes to keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU in order to avoid a hard border and security checks between EU member Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland.
It is meant as a temporary measure that would last until a permanent solution is found.
But U.K. lawmakers who want to make a clean break from the EU fear that Britain could become trapped in the backstop, indefinitely bound by EU trade rules.
May told the House of Commons that she would be "talking further this week to colleagues ... to consider how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House.
"And I will then take the conclusions of those discussions back to the EU."
EU leaders insist that they won't renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.
"She is wasting time calling for a revision or clarification over the backstop," said German politician Udo Bullmann, head of the socialist group in the European Parliament.
Poland's foreign affairs minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, on Monday suggested that a five-year limit on the backstop might be possible, if the Irish government supported the idea.
But that notion was rejected by Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. Both the Irish and the British governments also denied news reports that they were considering a deal on the backstop to break the deadlock.
While May stuck to her deal, she also acknowledged that control over Britain's exit wasn't entirely in her hands.
She noted that lawmakers will be able to amend her plan when it comes to a vote in the House of Commons on Jan. 29, exactly two months before Britain is due to leave the EU.
The amendments are designed either to rule out the possibility of a "no-deal" exit, to promote alternative forms of an exit, or to give Parliament itself greater control over the process.
Ordinarily, the prime minister would try to resist holding these votes, but May is allowing them partly in the hope that a significant number of Conservative lawmakers demand changes to the backstop plan.
Britain and the EU sealed the divorce deal in November after months of tense negotiations. But the agreement has been rejected by both sides.
Lawmakers who support an exit say the deal will leave the U.K. tethered to the bloc's rules and unable to forge an independent trade policy. Pro-Europeans argue that the deal is inferior to the frictionless economic relationship Britain currently enjoys as an EU member.
People who want to remain in the European Union hold placards and European flags as they demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament on Monday in London.
On Monday, May rejected calls from pro-EU lawmakers to delay Britain's departure from the bloc or to hold a second referendum on whether to leave, saying it would "damage social cohesion and faith in our democracy" if Parliament didn't carry out the wishes of the 17.4 million people who voted in 2016 to leave the EU.
May also rejected the option of pivoting toward an exit that includes closer ties to the EU.
Lawmakers who want to keep close economic ties with the bloc have called on May to ease her insistence that leaving the EU means quitting its single market and customs union.
If no deal is struck by Feb. 26, Parliament will be able to direct the next steps, including forcing May to call for an extension to the negotiations beyond Britain's planned exit date of March 29, under the plan.
May also told lawmakers that she could not rule out the possibility of leaving the EU on March 29 without any agreement in place to cushion the shock. That could see tariffs imposed on goods moving between Britain and the EU, sparking logjams at ports and shortages of essential supplies.
Observers said that as the exit deadline approaches, May appears to hope that Parliament will prefer even an unpopular plan to no plan.
"I think her strategy has always been to postpone the vote until the very last minute, so that even those members of Parliament who are skeptical about her deal, but don't want there to be no deal, would think twice about voting against it," said Agata Gostynska-Jakubowska, a senior research fellow in Brussels for the Center for European Reform, a London-based research institute.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said Monday was "another bleak day for business."
"Parliament remains in deadlock while the slope to a cliff edge steepens," she said.
One of the legislators calling to use parliamentary rules and amendments to block the possibility of a "no-deal" exit, Labor's Yvette Cooper, said May was shirking her responsibility to the country by refusing to take "no-deal" off the table.
"I think she knows that she should rule out 'no-deal' in the national interest because it would be so damaging," Cooper told the BBC. "She's refusing to do so, and I think she's hoping that Parliament will do this for her. That is not leadership."
Information for this article was contributed by Jill Lawless, Raf Casert, Lorne Cook and Monika Scislowska of The Associated Press; by Stephen Castle of The New York Times; and by Thomas Penny and Robert Hutton of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 01/22/2019
Print Headline: New exit deal for U.K. put forth by May; critics say bid to leave EU too much like rejected plan