EU leaders warn no-deal Brexit not ruled out despite MPs' vote for delay

March 15, 2019

The UK must put forward a clear plan for what happens next if there is to be a delay to Brexit, EU leaders have warned.

Despite MPs voting in favour of extending the Article 50 negotiating period on Thursday night, the House of Commons has been told this does not necessarily rule out a no-deal Brexit.

Instead, MPs will either have to approve Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal agreement, which they have already rejected twice, or come up with another proposal for breaking the deadlock at Westminster.

An official in French President Emmanuel Macron's office said on Friday: "Without clarity - an adoption of the withdrawal agreement or a clear alternative - a no-deal would prevail."

This stance was supported in Berlin, with Germany's justice minister Katarina Barley stressing that "giving more time alone will produce no solution".

She told local radio: "I think the EU would be willing to give more time, but there must be some sort of a plan about what should happen in this time."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: "If they want a delay the British need to explain how they plan to ensure a different outcome."

There were also suggestions that the EU would not countenance extending Article 50 if it merely pushed the prospect of a no-deal Brexit just a few months further down the line.

Irish finance minister Paschal Donohoe told Bloomberg TV: "What is really important to us and to the EU is that ... we are all clear what that extension period is for and that the availability of that extension period doesn't in any way heighten the kind of economic risk that we are trying to avoid at the moment."

Ahead of next week's gathering of EU leaders in Brussels, European Council president Donald Tusk is appealing to member states to be "open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it".

It has been reported the EU is ready to tell Mrs May she must hold a second referendum or opt for a "softer" Brexit in exchange for a delay to the UK's departure of longer than three months.

Following this week's series of dramatic votes in the Commons - during which MPs rejected leaving the EU with no deal as well as backing a delay - the prime minister now appears likely to put her Brexit deal to the House of Commons for a third time next week.

Under her plan, which was backed by MPs on Thursday night, if the Commons approves her withdrawal agreement by Wednesday then she will ask the EU for a delay to Brexit until 30 June.

This would allow the government the time to pass necessary legislation to put the Brexit deal into UK law.

However, if MPs again reject her deal, the prime minister has warned the EU would then only consider a much longer delay to Brexit, with the length of any extension to Article 50 to be decided by Brussels.

This would also likely mean the UK taking part in elections to the European Parliament in May, the prime minister has claimed.

Asked if a third defeat for Mrs May's deal next week might mean an extension of a year or more, the prime minister's de facto deputy David Lidington told the BBC: "Those are the indications which the Brussels institutions of the EU - the [European] Commission, the Council secretariat and certain member state governments - have been giving to us."

The DUP held talks in the Cabinet Office on Friday with senior members of the government, including Chancellor Philip Hammond and and Mr Lidington.

Nigel Dodds, the Northern Ireland party's deputy leader, hailed a "constructive dialogue" after their discussions, with talks to continue on how their 10 MPs could end up reversing their opposition to the withdrawal agreement.

"We want to get a deal, we have always been in that frame of mind, we don't want to leave without a deal," he said.

"But a lot will depend on what the government is able to do in terms of providing those guarantees that are necessary to assuage our concerns."

Mr Dodds suggested the government was "very focussed" on the issue of the Irish border backstop - the part of Mrs May's deal to which they are vehemently opposed.

He denied the presence of Mr Hammond at the talks meant the DUP had been discussing increased money for Northern Ireland with the government.

"We're not discussing cash in these discussions, this is about Brexit and how we protect the future of the UK and protect Northern Ireland's economic and political future," he said.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has written to other parties in parliament inviting them to meet with him and shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer to try and find a way to break the impasse.

Businesses also joined those calling for a clear plan from MPs should Brexit be delayed.

A Honda spokesman said: "We are now looking to the government to deliver a clear, legally certain, path forward to avoid no deal.

"Any extension... must be purposeful and long enough to give business stability."

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