UK government to wind down plans for no-deal Brexit departure
May under increasing pressure to name a leave date as EU grants further six-month delay to Brexit
The British government shelved no-deal Brexit plans "with immediate effect" yesterday as Theresa May faced mounting pressure from Cabinet ministers, Tory Eurosceptics and the DUP to name a date for her departure.
Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, told the civil service to "wind down" worst-case scenario no-deal planning after the European Union imposed a further six-month Brexit delay.
Crispin Blunt, a Eurosceptic Tory MP, said that the end of no-deal planning represented a "complete betrayal" of the referendum and described the move as a "dereliction of duty".
In the Commons yesterday, senior Eurosceptic Tory MPs urged the prime minister to quit amid mounting concern that Britain will have to participate in the May European elections.
The prime minister was confronted by MPs hours after returning from Brussels where she was forced by EU leaders to accept a Brexit extension until October 31. The DUP also threatened to withdraw support. Sammy Wilson, its Brexit spokesman, said continuing DUP support was not a "given" as the two-year confidence and supply agreement with the Tories came to an end.
Mrs May blamed the extension on MPs for refusing to support her deal as she told the Commons to use the 12-day Easter break as an opportunity to "reflect on the decisions that will be made swiftly on our return". She is expected to go on holiday herself next week.
Details of no-deal planning winding down emerged in an email from a senior civil servant obtained by Sky News. It said: "In common with the rest of government, we have stood down our no-deal operational planning... the objective is to ensure we wind down in a careful, considered and orderly way."
The prime minister has repeatedly suggested a no-deal Brexit is off the table, as it has been rejected by MPs. She appeared to pin her hopes of breaking the deadlock on talks with Labour and held a 10-minute meeting with Jeremy Corbyn shortly before Parliament broke for recess. A Labour spokesman said the talks would continue, but Downing Street warned talks with Labour to end the Brexit deadlock will not continue "for the sake of it".
Mrs May acknowledged that reaching agreement in talks with Labour "will not be easy" as it would require compromise on both sides, but said that it was in the "national interest" that they should try.
"This is not the normal way of British politics - and it is uncomfortable for many in both the government and opposition parties," she said.
Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would continue to engage "constructively" in the negotiations which he described as "serious, detailed and ongoing", but warned ministers would have to compromise if they were to succeed.
He hit out at what he said was an apparent attempt by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox to "scupper" the talks by trying to rule out a customs union - a key Labour demand.
Mrs May, however, suggested the two sides were not as far apart on the issue as was sometimes claimed.
"I think there is actually more agreement in relation to a customs union than is often given credit for when different language is used," she said.
During the debate in the Commons, Nigel Dodds, the DUP's Westminster leader, warned that his party would block any attempt to extend the current parliamentary session, due to finish in June. The Tories will rely on the DUP to prop them up to win a Commons vote approving the queen's speech. Failure to secure their support could collapse the government.
The DUP is increasingly concerned that Mrs May will opt to extend the current two-year session because of a dearth of domestic legislation and the risk it could lead to a general election.
Meanwhile, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde said yesterday that a six-month delay of Britain's exit from the European Union avoids the "terrible outcome" of a "no-deal" Brexit that would further pressure a slowing global economy.
But Ms Lagarde said the arrangement would prolong uncertainty and would not resolve the issues between Britain and the EU.