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A last throw of the Brexit dice for Britain's May

Analysts have warned of the growing risk of Britain leaving the European Union on 29 March with no agreement at all or even a general election in a desperate bid to break the impasse.

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament's Parliamentary Recording Unit shows Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May as she speaks during the weekly Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons in London on 16 January 2019, ahead of a debate and vote on a motion of no confidence in the government. Picture: AFP

LONDON - Theresa May's bid to reopen the Brexit deal could be a final throw of the dice or another delay to get MPs to back it - but either way, she is running out of options.

Analysts have warned of the growing risk of Britain leaving the European Union on 29 March with no agreement at all or even a general election in a desperate bid to break the impasse.

May finally secured a parliamentary majority on Brexit on Tuesday night but it was to change the divorce deal that she herself agreed with EU leaders only last month.

The bloc was swift to repeat that it will not replace the backstop arrangement to keep open the Irish border, apparently dooming May's attempt to failure.

"It's the last throw of the dice," one ally told the Financial Times newspaper. "But this is it - it's 5 am in the casino."

CLOSER TO NO DEAL

One legal commentator, David Allen Green, likened her plan to officers on the Titanic demanding the iceberg ahead of them be moved away from the ship.

"That will send a clear signal to the iceberg that we are determined to carry on," he imagined a naval officer on board saying.

Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King's College London, said that a series of votes in parliament on Tuesday had "wasted another day".

"We're a day closer to no deal," he told AFP.

"The only strategy I can see behind all this is the prime minister uses this to finally prove to all but her most recalcitrant backbenchers that the backstop cannot be renegotiated.

"So now they have to face the truth of Brexit: you vote for the deal, you vote for a (second Brexit) referendum or you vote for no-deal."

Opposition parties have repeatedly accused May of "running down the clock", assuming that the closer Britain gets to a potentially catastrophic "no deal" exit, the more likely MPs will be to support her agreement to avoid it.

She postponed a first vote on her Brexit deal in December, only to lose heavily on 15 January, and then waited two weeks before MPs were allowed to vote on what should happen next.

However, Downing Street says it is seeking to build a consensus, and in Tuesday's votes some opposition Labour MPs from Brexit-voting constituencies fell in behind the government.

ANOTHER ELECTION?

If May's bid to negotiate with Brussels flops, MPs will likely try once again to steer the government in a different direction in a vote on 14 February.

A bid to delay Brexit if no deal can be agreed, which was rejected by the House of Commons on Tuesday, could return -- as could calls for a second Brexit referendum.

Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, believes there is little chance May will succeed in her renegotiation but expressed the hope MPs will then step in.

"Parliament would bring down any government that pursued or tried to allow no deal," he said.

Paul Goodman of the ConservativeHome website suggested May could reach the conclusion that she has to delay Brexit.

"If she is unable to gain a compromise with the EU in a fortnight (and the odds must be that she will not), it follows that she will seek to kick the can down the road again -- even if the road no longer exists," he wrote.

The EU would be opposed to delaying Brexit just to prolong the debate in London but could agree to allow time for a general election.

Reports suggest May's Conservatives are on an election footing, raising the possibility she might just take the gamble.

Bronwen Maddox, director of the Institute for Government, a think tank, said before this week's votes that "given the pressure of time, and the party’s divisions, it is entirely possible that she might choose to lead the Conservatives into that battle".

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