May suffers setbacks as Brexit debate starts in UK parliament

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LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May suffered embarrassing defeats on Tuesday at the start of five days of debate over her plans to leave the European Union that could determine the future of Brexit and the fate of her government.

May wants to secure parliament’s approval for her deal to keep close ties with the EU after leaving in March, but opposition is fierce, with Brexit supporters and opponents alike wanting to thwart or derail her plan.

That could reduce the likelihood of Britain leaving the EU without any deal, prompting sterling to recover some of its losses after the vote on contempt drove it down to levels not seen since June last year.

The debates and final vote on Dec. 11 will determine how, and possibly even if, Britain leaves the EU as planned on March 29, in the country’s biggest shift in foreign and trade policy in more than 40 years.

May’s plans are vulnerable to more change at the end of the debate, and advice from a senior EU legal aide that Britain had the right to withdraw its Brexit notice opened yet another front in her battle to win the approval of parliament.

May told parliament: “We need to deliver a Brexit that respects the decision of the British people.

If MPs do not back her deal, May says, they could open the door either to Britain falling out of the EU without measures to soften the transition or to the possibility that Brexit does not happen.

The opposition Labour Party said May needed to get a better deal or step aside and let them govern.