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EU Chief Brexit Negotiator: No Deal Becomes More Likely “Day After Day”

On 1 April 2019, the UK’s House of Commons failed to decide by a majority on any plan of action for an orderly Brexit. This was the second time a number of indicative votes on a possible solution were held unsuccessfully. The first time was on 27 March 2019. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is in complete disarray, with part of her cabinet pushing her towards a no-deal Brexit, and another part calling for a softer one, with a customs union having thought to be the most popular of options (it ultimately wasn’t). In the meantime, at a public talk on 2 April, Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, proclaimed that "no deal was never our desire or intended scenario but the EU-27 is now prepared. It becomes day after day more likely."

On 1 April, Members of Parliament (MPs) in the UK’s House of Commons were more hopeful than ever that a majority on an organised way forward could be found, one which even the Government might be persuaded to follow, so as to avoid a no-deal Brexit by the EU-imposed deadline of 12 April 2019. While during the earlier round of indicative votes eight options had been tabled, the most recent round had only four, which were as follows:

  • A permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU.
  • UK membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and European Economic Area (EEA). This would allow continued participation in the single market, and a “comprehensive customs arrangement” with the EU.
  • A confirmatory public vote to confirm any Brexit deal passed by parliament before its ratification.
  • Seeking an extension to the Brexit process, and if this is not possible then parliament would choose between either a no-deal, or revoking Article 50 (no Brexit).

All four were defeated, the customs union proposed by the narrowest of margins (276 to 273 – thus, by only 3 votes). While there is some talk of the votes being held once again later in the same week in the hopes of finally finding a majority for one of them, there is still no “plan B” being put forward by the Government. 

The Prime Minister’s spokesman was asked for a reaction to the above-mentioned outcome, and he apparently informed reporters that “It is the second time that the house has considered a wide variety of options for a way forward, and it once again failed to find a clear majority in favour of any of those options. The government continues to believe it’s in the best interests of the country to leave with a deal”.

On 2 April, the Prime Minister held lengthy discussions with her warring cabinet of ministers, in an attempt to break the deadlock. The Chancellor Philip Hammond proposed putting Theresa May’s deal to the country in a second referendum, according to reports. The Chancellor was set to tell Cabinet that the government has to either make its own compromise proposal, or else put the question to the people. However, Mrs. May has always voiced her opposition to a second referendum, but the option may have become more attractive with the high likelihood of the UK falling off a cliff by 12 April if no plan is found.

It was also reported on 2 April that the EU appears ready to offer the UK an extension (beyond 12 April) if the Government were to decide on holding a second referendum or if the holding of national elections was felt to be the only way out of the current deadlock. The delay could then be a lengthy one, possibly of a year or more.

It also emerged on 2 April that a cross-party group of MPs has put forward an emergency bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit occurring. If the bill (presented by Labour MP Yvette Cooper) is passed into law, the Prime Minister would be forced to seek an extension of Article 50 – the Treaty provision which triggers a Member State’s departure from the EU – beyond the current 12 April deadline. Sir Oliver Letwin, who had previously put forward the proposal for indicative votes, also supports Ms. Cooper's bill, stating that “This is a last-ditch attempt to prevent our country being exposed to the risks inherent in a no-deal exit.”

From yet another angle, several MPs in the Prime Minister’s own party have already publicly signalled that they could vote against her in a confidence motion, so as to force a change of leadership, or else a general election.

Unfortunately, with just over a week to go, the UK is no nearer finding a solution for an orderly Brexit.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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