May begins Brexit tour amid challenge to keep UK united

May begins Brexit tour amid challenge to keep UK united

Bookmakers offer 5/1 odds for snap British election

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A peace wall separating the Catholic and Protestant communities is pictured in Belfast, Ireland, in this Jan. 25, 2017 file photo. The signs of division are still all too evident in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast, an Irish nationalist stronghold bordering pro-British communities where Brexit is creating growing unease. — AFP
A peace wall separating the Catholic and Protestant communities is pictured in Belfast, Ireland, in this Jan. 25, 2017 file photo. The signs of division are still all too evident in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast, an Irish nationalist stronghold bordering pro-British communities where Brexit is creating growing unease. — AFP

LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May was scheduled to visit Wales on Monday as part of a plan to engage with all the nations of the United Kingdom before she formally launches Britain’s departure from the European Union.

May will trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty on March 29, beginning two years of formal divorce talks, by the end of this month, and her office said she would be visiting Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to hear people’s views.

Meanwhile, British bookmaker odds indicated a 17 percent probability that Prime Minister Theresa May would call a snap general election after media speculation she could go to the polls.

“As the rumor mill continues to head into overdrive, the firm have reacted by chalking up a snap election in early May at 5/1, whilst it’s just 2/1 one is called before the end of the year,” Ladbrokes said in a statement.

May has made it clear to her colleagues that she does not favor an early election, because she thinks it would be self-serving and create added uncertainty at a time when the country needs stability, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported earlier this month.

May has a working majority of just 17 seats in the 650-seat lower house of parliament and speculation has long swirled that she will seek to strengthen her position ahead of the tough negotiations that will be involved in the Brexit process.

Last year’s Brexit referendum exposed splits that could threaten the unity of the UK, with Scotland and Northern Ireland delivering pro-EU majorities but finding themselves outvoted by the English and Welsh, who were in favor of leaving the bloc.

In a sharp challenge to May, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said last week she would be pushing for a fresh independence vote after having been met by “a brick wall of intransigence” in London when seeking for Scotland to have its own Brexit deal. May rebuffed that, saying now was not the right time.

Northern Ireland’s largest Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein has also said it wants a referendum on splitting from the United Kingdom “as soon as possible” to unite with the Republic of Ireland.

On Monday May and Brexit minister David Davis will meet with Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and business representatives to discuss how Wales can make the most of opportunities offered by Brexit, her office said.

“From my first day … I made clear my determination to strengthen and sustain the precious union. I have also been clear that as we leave the European Union I will work to deliver a deal that works for the whole of the UK,” May said in a statement before the visit.

“I want every part of the United Kingdom to be able to make the most of the opportunities ahead and for Welsh businesses to benefit from the freest possible trade as part of a global trading nation.”

The Institute for Government (IfG) think-tank warned on Monday, however, that there was “a complete lack of clarity” about the role Britain’s devolved legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would play in the Brexit process.

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