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May heads to Brexit-backing city to make last-ditch plea to rebel MPs

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Prime Minister Theresa May will on Monday repeat weekend warnings to MPs poised to reject her EU divorce deal that failing to deliver Brexit would be "catastrophic" for British democracy.

[LONDON] Prime Minister Theresa May will on Monday repeat weekend warnings to MPs poised to reject her EU divorce deal that failing to deliver Brexit would be "catastrophic" for British democracy.

On the eve of Tuesday's monumental vote in parliament on her withdrawal agreement - forged from 18 months of gruelling negotiations with European leaders - Mrs May is set to address factory workers in Stoke, a Brexit-backing city in central England.

The embattled leader, who is widely expected to lose the House of Commons vote by a wide margin, will make a final bid for support by arguing: "We all have a duty to implement the result of the referendum.

"I ask MPs to consider the consequences of their actions on the faith of the British people in our democracy," Mrs May is expected to say, according to excerpts of her speech released by her office.

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"What if we found ourselves in a situation where parliament tried to take the UK out of the EU in opposition to a remain vote?" she will ask.

"People's faith in the democratic process and their politicians would suffer catastrophic harm."

'NO CONFIDENCE IN THE GOVERNMENT' 

Britain is set to leave the European Union on March 29 but, with less than 11 weeks left, has yet to finalise the terms of its departure.

Mrs May's deal agrees a 21-month transition period under current terms while the future relationship with the bloc is negotiated, but it has drawn steadfast opposition from both Brexiteers and Remainers.

The prime minister has said rejecting it will throw Britain into "uncharted territory" and put the country at risk of crashing out without an agreement, or even no Brexit at all.

The opposition Labour Party, which favours remaining in a permanent customs union with the EU, has suggested it will seek a no-confidence vote in the government if MPs throw out the plan.

The Observer newspaper reported on Sunday that its lawmakers have been told it could be tabled "within hours" of that on Tuesday, with the confidence vote to be held the following day.

If the government lose a no-confidence motion, there will be a period of 14 days in which parties can seek to find an alternative working majority in parliament.

If they fail to do so, a general election would be called.

"We will table a motion of no confidence in the government at a time of our choosing, but it's going to be soon, don't worry about it," Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the BBC on Sunday.

Mr Corbyn conceded if the party won power, parliament would likely need to delay Brexit beyond March 29 so it could renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.

'A VERY BRITISH COUP' 

The prime minister already postponed a House of Commons vote on her plan in December to avoid defeat - and MPs look set to reject it again on Tuesday.

Lawmakers who believe it either leaves Britain too close or too distant from the bloc, fired ominous warning shots this week, voting to force the prime minister to quickly set out an alternative plan for Brexit if she loses the vote.

It was her second setback in 24 hours after MPs also voted to deny the government certain taxation powers in a no-deal scenario - in a bid to avoid such an outcome.

The Sunday Times said a group of senior cross-party backbench rebels are now plotting to change House of Commons rules to enable them to override government business if the deal falls.

Described as "a very British coup", the plan would see Mrs May lose control of parliamentary business to MPs, threatening her ability to govern, the newspaper said.

It said Downing Street was "extremely concerned" about the possibility, which could see lawmakers then delay Brexit through new legislation.

Conservative MP Nick Boles, who favours a Norway-style relationship which would keep Britain in the EU's single market, told the paper he was exploring tactics in the Commons to rule out a no-deal scenario.

"We have a mechanism which will give parliament control of the Brexit negotiations and ensure we do not leave the EU without a deal on March 29," he said.

"I am working on ways to achieve that outcome," Mr Boles said, indicating he would publish the plan on Tuesday.

AFP