Brexit set for delay after no-deal ruled out
Updated 11:44, 14-Mar-2019

The British parliament on Wednesday rejected leaving the European Union without a deal, further weakening Prime Minister Theresa May and paving the way for a vote that could delay Brexit until at least the end of June.

After a day of high drama, MPs defied the government by voting 321 to 278 in favor of a motion that ruled out a potentially disorderly "no-deal" Brexit under any circumstances.

It went further than the government's position of keeping the threat of a "no-deal" Brexit on the negotiating table, a stance many in her party said was essential to push Brussels to make further concessions to the deal they have rejected.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May reacts in Parliament following the vote on Brexit in London, Britain, March 13, 2019. /Reuters Photo

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May reacts in Parliament following the vote on Brexit in London, Britain, March 13, 2019. /Reuters Photo

While the approved motion has no legal force and ultimately may not prevent a no-deal exit, it carries considerable political force, especially as it passed thanks to a rebellion by members of May's own Conservative Party and her cabinet.

May, who still insists it is not possible to rule out a no-deal Brexit entirely, said MPs would need to agree a way forward before an extension could be obtained.

The European Commission repeated that a delay would indeed require justification, but positive comments from Germany and Ireland suggested that EU members at last saw a prospect that a viable deal would be found, and were inclined to help.

The government said there were now two choices: agree a deal and try to secure a short delay to Brexit, or fail to agree on anything and face a much longer delay.

May said her preference was for a short delay, which would mean the government trying to pass the deal she negotiated by the middle of next week.

Third attempt

She hopes to find a way to persuade hardline pro-Brexit MPs to back her deal at the third attempt, on the grounds that the alternatives offer a less clean break with the EU.

The UK Parliament has twice rejected the withdrawal agreement that May spent two years negotiating with the EU, and the bloc insists there will be no more talks.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned British lawmakers that "whoever rejects the (Brexit) agreement plays with the welfare of their citizens and the economy in a reckless way."

UK Treasury chief Philip Hammond said he was "confident that we will do a deal" in the next few weeks.

Many Britons wish they could share his optimism.

Opposition Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said "a no-deal Brexit could be terminal for Britain's manufacturing."


"I think that a bit of unity would be helpful now," said Katharine Beaugie, an artist in Dover. "It would be much better if we could have found some sort of decision."

On Wednesday evening, senior eurosceptic MPs were defiant, with one, Steve Baker, declaring they would keep on voting against May's deal if it was put forward again.

Another eurosceptic Conservative lawmaker, Andrew Bridgen, said parliament no longer represented "the people," who had voted for Brexit, by 52 percent to 48, in a referendum in 2016.

"This is very dangerous territory we are going into with regard to our democracy," he told Reuters.

In the text of a motion scheduled for a vote on Thursday, the government said if a deal was reached by March 20, the day before an EU summit, Britain would ask for the Brexit negotiating period to be extended from March 29, the date set in law, until June 30, just before the new European Parliament meets.

If no deal was agreed by March 20, "then it is highly likely the European Council at its meeting the following day would require a clear purpose for any extension, not least to determine its length, and any extension beyond 30 June 2019 would require the UK to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019," the motion said.

EU reactions

The impasse in London has also caused huge frustration in Brussels, and EU leaders have now warned they cannot agree with a delay until MPs say what they want.

"Why would we prolong the negotiation? To do what?" EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told the European Parliament in Strasbourg ahead of the vote in London.

May's decision to bring back a deal that critics said was "dead" is likely to prompt fury among many MPs.

But a spokeswoman for the European Commission said: "There are only two ways to leave the EU: with or without a deal. The EU is prepared for both. We have agreed a deal with the prime minister and the EU is ready to sign it."

Tellers announce the results of the vote on Brexit in Parliament in London, Britain, March 13, 2019. /Reuters Photo

Tellers announce the results of the vote on Brexit in Parliament in London, Britain, March 13, 2019. /Reuters Photo

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the EU would want to know the purpose of any British delay, but added: "I think things look a bit brighter today than they did yesterday."

The outcome of the vote angered many pro-Brexit members of the Conservative Party, who had wanted to retain the option of a "no-deal" exit as a bargaining chip, knowing that it would cause disruption in the EU as well as Britain.

After two-and-a-half years of negotiations and two failed attempts to pass the Brexit deal that May agreed with the EU, the vote against a no-deal exit still leaves undecided how, when and on what terms Britain will leave the club it joined in 1973.

After MPs crushed her deal for a second time on Tuesday, May said it was still the best option for leaving in an orderly fashion.

If Britain does seek a delay, it will require the agreement of all the bloc's other 27 members.

The EU would prefer only a short extension, ending before EU-wide parliamentary elections on May 24-26.

May's deal covers such issues as citizens' rights, the status of the Irish border and Britain's divorce bill from the EU. It takes Britain out of the EU single market and customs union, common fisheries and farm policies and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. It also offers a status-quo transition period in which to negotiate trade arrangements.

Under a no-deal exit, there would be no transition period to soften the disruption to trade and regulations. Britain would quit the EU's 500 million-strong single market and customs union and fall back on World Trade Organization rules, which could mean tariffs on many imports and exports.

(British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in Parliament following the vote on Brexit in London, Britain, March 13, 2019. /Reuters Photo)

Source(s): AFP ,Reuters