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Embattled May asks business leaders to back her Brexit deal

Theresa May will appeal to business leaders to help deliver her Brexit deal, as she fights almost insurmountable opposition in Parliament and a possible leadership challenge.

[LONDON] Theresa May will appeal to business leaders to help deliver her Brexit deal, as she fights almost insurmountable opposition in Parliament and a possible leadership challenge.

The embattled prime minister will address the Confederation of British Industry in London on Monday, trying to sell a Withdrawal Agreement that few even in her Conservative Party think is ideal. Meanwhile some of her lawmakers are campaigning to get rid of her, and even members of her Cabinet are openly discussing trying to rewrite the text.

The Sun, following what it called an "extensive investigation", said 42 lawmakers have sent letters saying they no longer support her. In theory, another six MPs are needed to meet the threshold to trigger a formal challenge. The story contained no live comment from Graham Brady, the only person who'd know for sure.

EU officials said privately that they want to limit any extension of the UK's departure transition period to the end of 2022. The UK's position isn't yet clear.

Mrs May said she'll go to Brussels to lead talks herself; there are still disagreements about the non-binding text on the future relationship, including economic and security ties.

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The arithmetic for Mrs May getting her deal through Parliament - where she doesn't have a majority and faces opposition on all sides - looks extremely difficult. She aims to fix her problem by winning business support for her plan.

Businesses are already starting to come out in favor, as they fear the alternative is a chaotic no-deal exit that would deprive them of what they have fought hardest to secure - a two-year transition period to give them time to adjust. Business also likes the deal for the same reason the pro-Brexit hardliners hate it: The agreement points to a future relationship of close economic ties and something very similar to the customs union.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the CBI, said on Sunday that lawmakers thinking of voting against it should go and talk to businesses in their districts. She said the deal opens the path to the "frictionless trade" companies want.

"Listen to the businesses in your constituencies," she urged lawmakers in a Sky News interview. "Go out and talk to people and ask whether they think it's now time to move on."

If the prime minister does find a way to get her deal through, it won't so much be because anyone in Parliament likes her plan but because the alternatives are viewed as worse - the argument Mrs May has made herself. One sign of success for this strategy came when she said that - to the best of her knowledge - the number of Conservative lawmakers challenging her leadership hadn't yet reached the required threshold to force a vote.

"This isn't about me, it's about what's right for the country, and as far I'm concerned we're not going to be distracted from this important job in this critical week of negotiations," Mrs May told Sky News. "A change of leadership at this point isn't going to make the negotiations any easier, and it's not going to change the parliamentary arithmetic. What it will do is bring in a degree of uncertainty."

The one person who does know how many Tories have written letters demanding a confidence vote - which requires 48 - is the man they write to: Mr Brady, the chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee. In a BBC radio interview on Sunday, he didn't sound like someone on the brink of unleashing political chaos. He joked about trying not to count out loud when he was shopping, for fear of being misunderstood. And he said that while he had his own doubts about what Mrs May had negotiated, he didn't think replacing her would help.

So far the number of Tories on record as having submitted letters is 23, though Sunday newspapers reported that others had done so in secret.

Even Dominic Raab, who resigned as Brexit Secretary last week and will vote against the deal, said that he wouldn't be submitting a letter. "All of this leadership stuff is a total distraction from the historic moment that we're at," he said on the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC.


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