British PM plots next move in Brexit stalemate

Published April 2, 2019, 9:34 AM

by AJ Siytangco

By Agence France-Presse

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.

Following Monday's votes, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit coordinator, said: "A hard Brexit becomes nearly inevitable" (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)
Following Monday’s votes, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said: “A hard Brexit becomes nearly inevitable” (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

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.

Read more: British MPs reject all Brexit alternatives, again