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EU officials warn of no-deal Brexit after UK lawmakers fail to break deadlock

Vidya Ram London | Updated on April 02, 2019 Published on April 02, 2019

PM Theresa May is expected to put her withdrawal agreement to vote yet again this week

Senior EU officials have warned of the increased risk that the UK could crash out of the Union without a deal after the House of Commons once again rejected all options put before it in a second round of indicative votes on Monday night.

While the option of customs union membership was defeated by just 3 votes, the huge divisions within and across parties became apparent over the course of the votes. With just 10 days to go before the UK is set to crash out of the EU without a deal if no road forward is agreed, there have been warnings from the EU that simply signalling what MPs are not in favour of is not be enough to stave off a disorderly no-deal Brexit.

While the EU Parliament’s representative on Brexit Guy Verhofstadt warned that a hard Brexit seemed almost inevitable, the European Commission’s Chief Negotiator on Brexit Michel Barnier said the option of no deal “looks very likely.” “No deal was never my intended scenario but day after day it becomes more likely,” he said on Tuesday, following Monday’s turbulent session of the House of Commons.

He urged MPs to get behind the government’s withdrawal deal if they wanted the UK to leave the EU in an orderly manner. “This treaty is and will be the only one on the table.” He said it would still be possible for the UK to be granted a short extension if needed, if the deal were given the green light by MPs, to avoid the April 12 cliff edge. However, if Britain is to avoid participating in European Parliamentary elections it must leave the EU before May 22, making it a very tight deadline. Any extension beyond this would require the UK to participate in the elections, which would present challenges both for the UK and the EU, who are fearful that the UK’s presence could be disruptive in a process that is set to be highly charged in any case, with right-wing and some Eurosceptic political forces making a play for seats.

Emergency summit

Following the rejection of the withdrawal deal for a third time last Friday, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Commission, announced the holding of an emergency summit in Brussels on April 10 at which European leaders will make the final call on whether to grant a further extension to the UK (if one is sought) or allow the UK to crash out without a deal.

There had been hopes that a shorter list of options chosen from the 8 that were put to MPs last week would help identify a route forward that MPs could rally around. Alongside the customs union option which lost by 273 to 276, MPs voted on one that is referred to as the so-called Common Market 2.0 — similar to the arrangements in place for Norway and the EU — with the UK remaining in the European Free Trade Association and the European Economic Area. This lost by 261 to 282. They also voted on requiring any deal to be subject to a confirmatory public vote (280 to 292) and a final one that would seek to avoid a no-deal Brexit by first requiring the government to seek an extension and if one were not granted, then revoke Article 50 (191 to 292).

Following the votes, Nick Boles, the MP who put forward the Common Market 2.0 proposal, resigned from the Conservative Party on the floor of the House of Commons, blaming the failure to find a route forward on his party’s failure to compromise.

The failure to find a route forward is likely to harden the government’s position that its deal is the only one possible. Significantly, while both the Common Market 2.0 and the Customs Union proposals were put forward by Conservative MPs, their backing in the indicative voting process came from Labour, with the vast majority of Conservatives voting against it. Therefore, were the government to push through with one of these it would mean relying on the votes of opposition MPs rather than their own ranks which is thought to be highly unlikely.

“The default legal position is to leave the EU in 11 days-time,” warned Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay on Monday night.

Other options

While the government is expected to attempt bring its withdrawal deal to MPs for a vote for a fourth time this week, other options remain. Among the issues being considered are holding a snap general elections to break the impasse though this would be a very risky strategy for the government, given the proximity of Labour and Conservatives in the polling. The Times reported that Chancellor Philip Hammond has suggested to his colleagues breaking the deadlock through a confirmatory referendum.

Published on April 02, 2019

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