Don't hijack Brexit, minister warns Britain's parliament
* Some lawmakers want more control over Brexit process
* Parliament rejected PM May's deal with EU
* May to return to parliament on Monday to set out plans
* Britain due to leave EU on March 29
* Opposition Labour says focus on two options
(Adds end of cabinet discussion)
By Elizabeth Piper
LONDON, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Parliament cannot be allowed to
hijack Brexit, Trade Minister Liam Fox said on Sunday, in a
warning to lawmakers who want to take more control over
Britain's departure from the European Union.
With just weeks to go before Britain is due to leave the EU,
Prime Minister Theresa May will return to parliament on Monday
to set out how she plans to try to break the Brexit deadlock
after her deal was rejected by lawmakers last week.
As she tries to navigate a way through competing visions for
the future from a second referendum to staying in the EU, May
told ministers on Sunday she was looking for ways to make the
so-called Northern Irish backstop more acceptable to her
Conservative Party and Northern Irish allies.
The Sunday Times reported May was seeking a treaty with
Ireland to remove the contentious backstop arrangement, but
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was unclear how any
bilateral talks could help the EU's deal with London.
Time is running out for parliamentary agreement on Brexit,
Britain's biggest shift in foreign and trade policy in more than
40 years, but so far there is little that unites a divided
parliament beyond its rejection of May's deal that envisages
close economic ties with the EU, at least in the medium term.
Fox, a Brexit supporter, told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show
that May's divorce agreement with the EU was still the best
basis for a deal and warned lawmakers against trying to take
more control of Britain's departure.
"Parliament has not got the right to hijack the Brexit
process because parliament said to the people of this country:
'we make a contract with you, you will make the decision and we
will honour it'," Fox said.
"What we are now getting are some of those who were always
absolutely opposed to the result of the referendum trying to
hijack Brexit and in effect steal the result from the people."
Britain voted with a 52 percent majority to leave the EU in
a 2016 referendum that exposed deep divisions across the country
which persist almost three years on.
Britain's main opposition Labour Party is pressing for a new
election and for May to rule out the possibility of a no-deal
Brexit. No deal is effectively the default position which would
mean trading on World Trade Organization rules.
After seeing her deal rejected by a majority of more than
200 lawmakers last week, May has opened talks with other parties
to try to find a way to break the deadlock.
But with Labour refusing to take part until May rules out no
deal, some lawmakers fear those talks will change little and
instead have said they will launch attempts next week to force
the government to change course.
Several are trying to make sure Britain does not
"accidentally" leave without a deal on March 29, a scenario many
businesses say would be catastrophic for the economy.
"What happens when you have a hung parliament is that power
does pass from government ... to parliament and that's what we
are seeing play out," Nicky Morgan, a Conservative former
minister, told Sky News, referring to the ruling party's lack of
an overall majority.
Morgan said she was backing a bill that would force the
government to extend Article 50, which triggered Britain's
two-year talks to leave the EU, if it cannot get an agreement
approved by parliament by the end of February.
Dominic Grieve, another Conservative lawmaker, is also
looking at ways to stop Britain from leaving without a deal.
With much of the focus now on Labour, its Brexit spokesman
Keir Starmer said there were only two options that could find
majority support: a future close economic relationship with the
EU, or a second referendum, and that it was increasingly likely
Article 50 would be extended.
"We've arrived at phase three and therefore we need to be
realistic about what the options are," Starmer told the BBC.
"Let's ... reduce it to the options that are at least
capable of getting a majority, and that is a close economic
relationship and a public vote."
(Additional reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bangalore Editing by
Janet Lawrence and David Holmes)
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