LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May will be given more time by her Conservative Party to negotiate Brexit with the European Union if she can convince Brussels to talk, a member of parliament involved in discussions with the government said on Wednesday.
A group of Conservative members of parliament from both wings of May’s deeply divided party bypassed her last week to come up with a compromise plan that called on the prime minister to return to Brussels and reopen the most contentious element of the exit agreement - the Northern Irish backstop.
Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, the MPs behind the plan - dubbed the Malthouse Compromise after its broker, Kit Malthouse - said their proposal was being taken seriously, describing intensive talks with government to flesh it out as May prepares for meetings in Brussels on Thursday.
One of the group said if May could demonstrate that the EU was willing to renegotiate, she would buy herself some more time and avoid a potential flashpoint in parliament next week when she returns to report her progress.
“We need to see a willingness from the EU,” the lawmaker said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “She (May) is the one who’s got to convince them.”
The EU has repeatedly rejected the idea that the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement could be reopened.
The Malthouse Compromise brought together eurosceptic and pro-EU Conservatives behind a set of arrangements which would replace the backstop with an alternative to appease Brexit supporters, and mitigate the risks of leaving without a deal to appeal to MPs who want to keep close EU ties.
May is not expected to present a formal set of proposals at meetings in Brussels on Thursday, nor is there much expectation that she will return to parliament next week with a deal that MPs can vote to approve or reject.
Instead May is committed, at the very least, to present parliament with an update on her progress on Feb. 13, which will then be debated on Feb. 14.
That debate will be a re-run of one on Jan. 29, at which she narrowly defeated attempts by groups of MPs opposed to her plan to seize control of the Brexit process and delay Britain’s EU exit. Instead, she won a mandate to return to Brussels.
The unity that helped her keep control of the process is likely to hold temporarily, the lawmaker involved in the Malthouse Compromise said, but that patience would not last indefinitely as the clock ticks down to Brexit.
Britain is due to leave on March 29.
Editing by Janet Lawrence