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Brexit activists fly Union flags as anti-Brexit activists hold placards as they demonstrate near the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London on March 28, 2019.TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

British Prime Minister Theresa May has launched a surprise move to delay Britain’s departure from the European Union until May 22, a gamble she hopes will buy enough time to win support for her Brexit deal.

On Friday, members of Parliament will vote on a motion that Ms. May believes will fulfill a requirement EU leaders made last week that would allow the Brexit deadline to be extended to May 22 from March 29. Whether the ploy – which only puts the withdrawal agreement of the deal to a vote – will work is far from clear.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 MPs prop up Ms. May’s minority government, did not appear keen on the motion and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party couldn’t support it. But most members of Parliament seemed more baffled than anything. “Just when we thought the Brexit chaos could not get worse,” Labour MP Chris Bryant said.

Ms. May has been running out of options to get Parliament to approve the Brexit deal she struck with the EU last November. She’s tried nearly everything to win over opponents, many of whom are within her Conservative Party caucus. On Wednesday, she even offered to resign if Tory rebels backed the deal. So far nothing has worked and the deal seemed set for another defeat in Parliament on Friday.

The withdrawal agreement is a 600-page, legally binding document that outlines the terms of Britain’s departure. It covers citizens’ rights, a transition period and the controversial backstop that ensures no hard Irish border.

However, MPs would not vote on the other part of the Brexit deal, the non-binding “political declaration”: a 27-page text that outlines the framework for discussions between Britain and EU on their future relationship in areas such as trade.

The withdrawal agreement is the critical part of the Brexit deal and it has caused Ms. May the biggest headache among Tory rebels and the DUP. They primarily oppose the backstop, arguing it would effectively tie Northern Ireland to the EU indefinitely and cut the province off from the rest of the country.

They want the backstop changed or removed but the EU has refused. The problem for Ms. May is that the number of MPs opposed to the backstop has been large enough to ensure the deal’s defeat in Parliament, twice.

By holding a vote on just the withdrawal agreement, Ms. May is hoping to do an end run around the rebels. That’s because many opposition MPs support the backstop and even Mr. Corbyn has been largely supportive of the withdrawal agreement.

His concerns are more with the political declaration and what the future relationship will look like. Mr. Corbyn wants Britain to end up in a customs union with the EU while others MPs are pushing for the country to remain in the bloc’s single market. Ms. May has rejected both proposals. Critically, though, the EU has said it will consider changes to the political declaration.

By voting only on the withdrawal agreement, Ms. May is hoping to attract enough opposition MPs to offset the Tory rebels and DUP. And there’s another reason for the move.

Last week, EU leaders said if Ms. May got Parliament to approve the withdrawal agreement by March 29, they would agree to extend the Brexit deadline until May 22. That would give Ms. May time to rework the political declaration enough to get both parts of the Brexit deal ratified by Parliament.

“This is like any disagreement – there’s a bit we agree on, just make it simpler, break it down into chunks,” Conservative cabinet minister Rory Stewart told the BBC on Thursday. “Both Labour and the Conservatives back the withdrawal agreement, so let’s get that done.”

There are plenty of risks. Even if the motion passed, MPs still have to ratify the overall deal as one item and that could leave Ms. May facing the same problems she has now. And if ratification didn’t happen before May 22, Britain would either have to leave without a deal or seek a longer extension.

A longer deadline would mean Britain would have to participate in elections to the European Parliament that begin May 23, something Ms. May doesn’t want to do.

Mr. Corybn and several other MPs argued Thursday that the two cannot be legally separated and must be considered as one package. If MPs only vote on the withdrawal agreement, “you move into a blindfold Brexit,” he said Thursday. “There is no way out of [the withdrawal agreement] once you’ve signed it and gone into it and we are not prepared to support the Prime Minister on this.”

Tory rebel Andrew Bridgen said the move could cause even more concern about the backstop. "There’s almost no chance of getting out of the backstop ever without the political declaration being attached,” he told reporters. “It seems like a legal nightmare for the government to do this.”

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