British PM plots next move in Brexit stalemate
LONDON, April 2, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – The British cabinet was to gather on Tuesday seeking a way to leave the EU with a deal in 10 days’ time, with torn MPs rejecting every possible path to Brexit.
Prime Minister Theresa May was to call in her cabinet to discuss the next steps after lawmakers failed to find a majority on any alternative to the divorce deal she struck with Brussels — an agreement they have also rejected three times already.
Brussels has set Britain an April 12 deadline to agree to the divorce deal, settle on an alternative or crash out of the European Union.
Backbenchers in parliament’s lower House of Commons seized the initiative by holding a round of votes last week on eight alternative Brexit options, but failed to agree on any of them.
It refined them down into four choices on Monday but once again a majority voted no to them all, even with the cabinet abstaining.
The result was close for proposals to negotiate a permanent customs union with the EU.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay hinted the government could now bring its deal back for a fourth vote this week and avoid a longer delay to Brexit that would mean holding European Parliament elections in May.
“To secure any further extension, the government will have to put forward a credible proposition to the EU,” he said.
“The only option is to find a way through which allows the UK to leave with a deal.
“The best course of action is to do so as soon as possible.”
He said the cabinet would meet on Tuesday to consider the results of Monday’s votes “and how we should proceed”.
– ‘Face the abyss’: Verhofstadt –
Following Monday’s votes, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said: “A hard Brexit becomes nearly inevitable”.
When MPs meet again on Wednesday “the UK has a last chance to break the deadlock or face the abyss,” he said.
The EU has called an emergency summit for April 10 and warned that without a plan, Britain risks abruptly ending ties with its largest trading partner two days later, causing huge economic disruption.
Anand Menon, professor of European politics at King’s College London, told AFP that Tuesday’s cabinet meeting would be “relatively upbeat”.
“The cabinet can say ‘OK, the ground is perhaps right to come back to parliament for a fourth time with Mrs May’s deal’ and say to parliament, ‘look, we gave you two chances to come up with something, you’ve failed both times. Vote for this deal otherwise next week there is a real danger of no-deal’.”
Britain voted by 52 percent to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, but the process has been mired in divisions over the terms of the divorce and what kind of future ties to seek.
The political chaos forced May to postpone Britain’s exit from the original date of March 29.
– Elusive majority –
Monday’s first motion, calling for the government to negotiate a permanent customs union with the EU, was defeated by 276 votes to 273.
The second option, dubbed “Common Market 2.0”, would accept May’s divorce terms but require her to negotiate a new EU customs arrangement and membership of the EU single market. It was beaten by 282 votes to 261.
A vote on plans for a second referendum went down by 292 to 280.
The final option, which would have instructed government to revoke the legislation to leave the EU a day before Britain is due to crash out, was rejected by 292 to 191.
Nick Boles, the MP who had proposed the Common Market 2.0 plan, quit May’s Conservative Party after the vote.
“I have given everything to an attempt to find a compromise,” an emotional Boles told parliament.
“I have failed chiefly because my party refuses to compromise. I regret therefore to announce I can no longer sit for this party,” he said.
The Conservatives rely on backing from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists for a narrow majority, which shrunk even further with Boles’ departure.
– ‘Division and despair’ –
Tuesday’s newspaper front pages raked over the continued impasse.
“Farce as Commons fails to agree any Brexit plan AGAIN,” said the Daily Mail.
“We voted for Brexit, all you say is no,” said the Daily Express.
The Daily Mirror called it “another night of division and despair”.
The Guardian’s analysis said May “still faces an intractable decision, a ticking clock, a mutinous party, an aghast British public and a frankly baffled EU.”