It’s no-deal Brexit or short delay: May tells British MPs

Vidya Ram London | Updated on February 26, 2019

Running out of time A paper mache figure depicts Queen Elizabeth running during the presentation of floats for the upcoming Rose Monday parade in Mainz, Germany   -  KAI PFAFFENBACH

Labour accuses government of attempting to run down the clock

The campaigns to delay, modify — or even halt — the British government’s interpretation of Brexit gained a boost, as Prime Minister Theresa May said she could offer MPs a choice of ruling out a no-deal exit, or a short, time limited-delay to Brexit, a day after Britain’s Labour Party confirmed that it would support the holding of a second referendum if the government failed to back its alternative vision of Brexit.

The developments come as Britain prepares to leave the EU in just over a month’s time, so far without a withdrawal agreement amenable to both sides, and as the Prime Minister prepares to put the terms of leaving the EU to MPs in a meaningful vote on March 12, just 17 days before Britain is due to leave. Should her deal not be agreed to on March 12, May has pledged to offer MPs votes on the next two days, firstly (on March 13) on ruling out a no-deal exit, and secondly (on March 14) on requesting an extension to the Article 50 negotiation process.

“So the United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on March 29 if there is explicit consent in this House for that outcome,” Theresa May told a heated session of the House of Commons on Tuesday, adding she did not want Article 50 extended, and would not revoke Article 50. She also warned against anything but a short delay, noting that if it went beyond June, Britain would have to take part in the European Parliamentary elections or else face a ‘sharper cliff edge’ exit a few months down the road.

Opposition MPs unmoved

Opposition MPs warned against according too much significance to the Prime Minister’s plan. “No one should fall for this,” said the leader of the Scottish National Party Nicola Sturgeon, insisting her moves were part of “cynical manoeuvring to try and bully MPs into accepting her bad deal.” Labour also accused the government of attempting to run down the clock. A no-deal exit was still on the table, insisted Anna Soubry, a former Conservative MP who left the party last week to join an independent group of former Conservative and Labour MPs. They are urging MPs across the political spectrum to back an amendment on Wednesday that would legally require the government to offer MPs the option of extending the Brexit process beyond March if MPs didn’t agree to May’s deal on March 12.

The new Labour line on a second referendum marks a significant shift in the position of the party’s leadership and particularly Jeremy Corbyn, who have long maintained that the party has a responsibility to deliver on Brexit and what people voted for in 2016, and highlights the strong pressure mounted in recent weeks on the party’s top brass, both from within and outside the shadow cabinet. Senior party leaders on Tuesday clarified that Labour would be pushing for a remain option and a “credible” Brexit plan to be offered to voters in any referendum.

While some of the nine Labour MPs who left the party last week, cited the party’s Brexit strategy as one of their reasons for doing so, other senior figures had begun to express concerns that unless Labour backed a second referendum, it would continue to lose public support as well as more MPs. The decision followed meetings held by the party in Brussels and Madrid with senior officials.

While the development is significant, the Labour move does not decisively clear the way for a second referendum. Firstly, the party will only support a second referendum if it fails to gain backing for its version of Brexit, but this could spur Conservative opponents to Theresa May (in particular the hard-Brexit supporting European Research Group) to back her deal — particularly as they are now faced with the votes the Prime Minister promised on ruling out a no-deal and an extension.

Published on February 26, 2019

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