Monday 19 August 2019

Back to square one as all Brexit options shot down again

Taoiseach will plead with EU leaders to back long extension for British, rather than force a no deal

Theresa May: British PM is not giving up on her withdrawal deal. Picture: AFP
Theresa May: British PM is not giving up on her withdrawal deal. Picture: AFP
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Hopes that a majority of British politicians would embrace a soft Brexit were dashed last night as Parliament again rejected all pathways to leaving the EU.

The deadlock in Westminster remains with just 10 days until the next Brexit deadline, fuelling fears that the UK will crash out of the union.

Prime Minister Theresa May will discuss the crisis with her divided Cabinet today and is believed to want a fourth vote on her deal. There will consideration given the possibility of calling a general election to break the deadlock or whether to seek a long Brexit delay.

Reacting to the latest developments, the European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt said a hard Brexit was "nearly inevitable".

"On Wednesday, the UK has a last chance to break the deadlock or face the abyss."

While the UK Parliament continues its internal battle, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be pleading with EU capitals to look favourably on a long Brexit extension rather than force a no-deal scenario.

His conversations with leaders begin in Paris today where French President Emmanuel Macron is reported to be sceptical about allowing the UK to take part in European elections next month.

Last night, Mr Varadkar said Brexit is at a "critical juncture".

Four options were presented to MPs in the House of Commons yesterday but all were rejected late last night. The House was heavily split on the idea of entering a customs union or common market arrangement with the EU. Both approaches would be welcomed in Dublin.

The custom union, which was defeated by just three votes, would not solve the Irish Border question but it would guarantee smooth and tariff-free trade in goods across the Border.

In order to maintain the status quo, the UK and Ireland would still have to negotiate a way of ensuring food and animal standards are aligned between Northern Ireland and the EU.

Some 280 MPs voted in favour of a second referendum but 292 voted against.

The Paris meeting between Mr Varadkar and Mr Macron is likely to be closely monitored in London. The French government is increasingly frustrated with events in the UK and wary of granting a lengthy Brexit extension.

Mr Macron is also likely to seek assurances that Ireland will protect the EU's single market in the event of a disorderly Brexit. The Taoiseach has repeatedly acknowledged that this country has a responsibility to the remaining EU27 - but he has insisted this cannot be through border controls on the island of Ireland.

He is expected to spend the coming days urging EU leaders to show patience while the UK tries to find a way forward, making the point a delay is better than no deal.

Last night, Mr Varadkar said: "I am keen to discuss the possible scenarios arising from this week, particularly how the European Council should respond to a request for another extension and ongoing efforts to secure ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement. As I have indicated, it is now up to the UK to show how it plans to proceed."

The part shift towards a softer Brexit was driven by the British Labour Party, which urged its MPs to back alternatives to Mrs May's deal.

The DUP voted against all of the four alternative Brexit options last night.

Holding her Cabinet and her party together is now proving to be an almost impossible task for Mrs May. She is under immense pressure from both party wings to decide whether to put her own deal forward for a fourth vote, or switch to a plan B. But she has been warned that ministerial resignations will be "unavoidable" if she picks either no deal or a customs union.

Irish Independent

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