UK Pound Hits 2019 High Amid Reports Prime Minister May Plans Brexit Delay - TheStreet

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May could opt for a delay to Britain's March 29 Brexit deadline later Tuesday, according to multiple media reports, in order to allow for more time to win support for her much-maligned EU exit deal and avoid the worst-case scenario of cashing out of the bloc without a bespoke trade agreement.

May's potential U-turn on a so-called Article 50 delay, after only yesterday telling reporters during a visit to Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh that a March 29 exit was "within our grasp" lifted the pound to a year-to-date high against the U.S. dollar Tuesday, supported by a move from Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn that his Labour party could support a second Brexit referendum if Parliament is unable to agree an exit deal in the coming months. 

"One might have thought sterling would be a lot higher today, now that Labour has come off the fence and backed the path to a second referendum (assuming their preferred path to Brexit and a permanent customs union can't be delivered)," said ING's Chris Turner. "And Prime Minister Theresa May now, for the first time, is countenancing a short Article 50 delay should her withdrawal deal be rejected in a vote by 12 March."

The pound was marked 1.03% higher from yesterday's levels against the U.S. dollar in early Tuesday trading and changing hands at 1.3225, the highest level since October and a move that extend's the currency's gains to around 5.9% since early December.

May will bring her revised deal to Parliament on March 12 -- just two weeks before the formal March 29 exit date -- after having delayed her first attempt in December and suffering the biggest defeat in British political history in early January.

However, several prominent members of her own Conservative party have threatened to quit the government, potentially triggering fresh national elections, if May does not allow for a vote that would remove the prospect of a "no deal" Brexit before lawmakers vote (again) on her brokered agreement on March 12.

"All of us are agreed that we couldn't be part of a government that allowed the country to leave the European Union without a deal," Digital Minister Margot James told BBC Radio Tuesday. 

Lawmakers will debate a motion to allow for a vote that would remove a "no deal" prospect, known as the Cooper-Letwin amendment, during a parliamentary session on Wednesday. If May allows government members to vote freely, the amendment is likely to pass, putting the Prime Minister in the awkward position of being unable to use "no deal" leverage in future negotiations with European Union leaders.

May's original plan was rejected in the face of cross-party objections over the nature of the so-called Irish backstop, a clause in the Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels that would kick-in if the two sides failed to reach an longer-term arrangement on trade after Britain formally leaves the EU on March 29.

Should May and her EU counterparts fail to reach a deal on future trade, Britain would face the choice of either remaining in the European Customs Union, preventing it from signing free-trade deals with the United States and others, or exiting the EU customs union and establishing a so-called "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, a move that would contravene the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.