Monday 14 October 2019

Britain's stark choice: delay Brexit or face crash-out chaos

  • UK is 'out of control' as it's left to choose either delay or crash-out
  • Irish hopes are now pinned on the potential for an extension to Article 50
  • EU chiefs shutdown any suggestion Mrs May could seek more changes to backstop
Clearing her throat: UK Prime Minister Theresa May at the start of the debate on the second meaningful vote on her government’s Brexit deal in the House of Commons yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Clearing her throat: UK Prime Minister Theresa May at the start of the debate on the second meaningful vote on her government’s Brexit deal in the House of Commons yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to Parliament after the results of the vote on Brexit deal. Photo: REUTERS

Kevin Doyle and Laura Larkin

British politicians now face the stark choice of actively pursuing a no-deal Brexit or begging the EU to allow them to stall the process.

The risk of the UK crashing out of the EU in 16 days' time increased dramatically last night on foot of Prime Minister Theresa May's revised Withdrawal deal, announced in Strasbourg on Monday, being roundly rejected by MPs, by 391 votes to 242.

Irish hopes are now firmly pinned on the potential for an extension to Article 50 beyond March 29.

But aware that many EU capitals are wary of prolonging the Brexit debacle, Mrs May has also raised the possibility of a second referendum.

"The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension," the prime minister said.

"This House will have to answer that question.

Jacob Rees Mogg: The Brexiteer has proposed a May 22 extension. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson
Jacob Rees Mogg: The Brexiteer has proposed a May 22 extension. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson

"Does it wish to revoke Article 50? Does it want to hold a second referendum? Or does it want to leave with a deal but not this deal?"

A group of hardline Brexiteers, including Jacob Rees Mogg, last night joined forces with the DUP's Nigel Dodds to formally propose that Brexit be delayed until May 22 - the day before European elections.

They have tabled an amendment to the motion planned by Mrs May which states this time period would allow businesses time to prepare for the operation of tariffs.

EU leaders are not overly keen for a delay past the end of May.

Sources in Dublin said the Government here will "help" the UK lobby other countries for an extension because "March 29 was always a UK deadline, not an EU one".

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney are now increasingly aware of the need for a "clear logic" as to why a postponement should be granted.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to Parliament after the results of the vote on Brexit deal. Photo: REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to Parliament after the results of the vote on Brexit deal. Photo: REUTERS

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is considered an ally of the Taoiseach in the European Council, said last night that a request from the UK must have "credible and convincing justification".

"The smooth functioning of the EU institutions needs to be ensured," he said.

While open to the idea of an extension, EU chiefs moved swiftly to shutdown any suggestion Mrs May could seek more changes to the operation of the Irish backstop.

European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU has "done all that is possible to reach an agreement".

"Should there be a UK reasoned request for an extension, the EU27 will consider it and decide by unanimity," he said.

The House of Commons will vote tonight on a motion to test whether MPs support leaving the EU without a deal. The idea is expected to be defeated. This will open the door to another vote tomorrow on a possible extension.

But in a further complication it is understood the length of that delay would have to be agreed by politicians in London before a request goes to the EU.

The first proposal to surface is from a group of lawmakers to delay the exit until May 22 and mitigate the consequence of leaving without a deal by seeking 'standstill arrangements' with the EU.

The DUP-backed motion called for Brexit to be delayed until 10.59pm on May 22 and urges the government to offer "a further set of mutual standstill agreements with the EU and member states for an agreed period ending no later than December 30, 2021, during which period the UK would pay an agreed sum equivalent to its net EU contributions and satisfy its other public international law obligations".

Mr Dodds said the best way to get a Brexit deal through parliament is for the government to maintain it would be willing to walk away from talks and leave without a deal.

"The best way to get a good deal, the best way to get a deal you can actually vote for is to keep the threat of a no deal on the table," he said.

"Once you take that threat off, you are bound to be offered terms which are less advantageous in the sure and certain knowledge that the other side have that you're not going to walk away."

But Mrs May said last night that she "passionately" believes the best outcome for the UK is to agree a deal.

In reference to Northern Ireland, she said she was acutely aware of the "potential damage to the Union that leaving without a deal could do when one part of our country is without devolved governance".

She will today outline the reality of a hard Brexit so that MPs are "fully informed in making this historic decision".

A real moment of truth will come when she reveals the UK government's plan for tariffs and their approach to the Northern Ireland Border.

As the crisis grew last night, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, warned: "The impasse can only be solved in the UK. Our 'no-deal' preparations are now more important than ever before."

European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt was even more scathing, saying: "Brexit was about taking back control. Instead the UK spiralled out of control."

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he was "deeply disappointed" that the meaningful vote in Westminster failed.

Avoiding a crash-out Brexit cannot be done without the UK parliament "agreeing something" he said, adding a no deal would be a "lose, lose, lose" scenario for everyone.

"I think the prime minister outlined very clearly that parliament faces hard choices now. The focus is on London. That's where the problem is. That's where solutions must come from," he said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil yesterday that a no-deal scenario "must be avoided".

Irish Independent

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