Former UK envoys back call to delay Brexit

Vidya Ram London | Updated on February 14, 2019

File Photo of Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May.   -  Reuters

‘Better not to leave EU without clarity on final destination’

Forty three former British ambassadors and High Commissioners have added their voice to calls for the government to delay Brexit and consider holding a new referendum on whether to remain in the EU.

The signatories include former ambassadors to Germany, France, the US, Canada, Japan and Russia, who joined forces to appeal to the government to not leave the EU without “clarity about our final destination,” pointing to their “clear understanding” as former diplomats of “what contributes to Britain’s influence in the world.”

“It is clear that Brexit has turned into a national crisis. There is no possible deal that will be a sensible alternative to the privileged one we have today as members of the EU, with a seat at the table, inside the Single Market and Customs Union but outside the Euro and Schengen,” they wrote.

Pressure has been mounting on the government to consider delaying Brexit, as politicians in the UK struggle to reach consensus on a withdrawal strategy that would be acceptable to Brussels and other EU nations.

A non-binding, though symbolically significant, vote on the government’s negotiating approach is set to take place Thursday evening, where MPs from across the political spectrum are expected to table amendments in an attempt to shift the debate, and further pressure the government to move in a particular direction.

They include members of the European Research Group — a hard-Brexit-supporting group of MPs who have been sharply critical of the terms of the backstop included in the withdrawal agreement to remove the risk of a hard border developing on the island of Ireland. The government has attempted to rally support for an endorsement of Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy (which has been to continue to attempt to get a revised Brexit deal), arguing that unless MPs support the motion on Thursday, it would be almost impossible for the government to extract further concessions from the EU on the backstop.

The EU has repeatedly insisted that without the British government and Parliament clearly signalling what there is a majority of support for, any movement forward is impossible. However, they have ruled out any changes to the backstop in the withdrawal agreement. Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Britain’s Trade Secretary Liam Fox called for those MPs to abandon their “ideological purity” and vote with the government.

‘No news isn’t always good’

While the Prime Minister has rejected accusations that she was running down the clock in an attempt to force politicians to back her deal when faced with the alternative of a shambolic no-deal exit, a journalist at ITN News overheard Britain’s chief negotiator Olly Robbins discussing the government’s Brexit strategy in a private conversation in a bar.

According to the reporter, Robbins had suggested the final vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal deal would only happen shortly before March 29, when Britain is due to leave the EU. May would then give MPs a choice between backing her deal or a lengthy delay to Brexit, Robbins reportedly said.

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the Prime Minister of engaging in the “pretence of working across Parliament to find solutions,” and of risking people’s livelihoods, jobs and investment in a “desperate” attempt to push her “deeply flawed” deal through Parliament. European Council President Donald Tusk said earlier this week that “no news” was not always “good news” and that they were still waiting for “concrete, realistic proposals from London.”

Published on February 14, 2019

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