Political ‘zombieland’ could keep UK in EU until next year, Stewart warns

The UK risks being stuck in a political “zombieland” where no decisions are taken if Parliament fails to pass a Brexit deal, Tory leadership contender Rory Stewart has warned.

The Conservative MP said rival candidates who are promising to deliver on Brexit by the end of October are “misleading themselves and others”.

Several of the contenders vying to succeed Theresa May as Conservative leader and prime minister have pledged Britain will be out of the European Union by then – without a deal if necessary

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Boris Johnson, one of the favourites to win the race, has already warned MPs will face “mortal retribution” from the electorate if they try to stop Brexit.

But Mr Stewart, the International Development Secretary, said it would be “very, very tough” for the UK to be out of the EU by the October 31 deadline.

The possibility of a second European referendum or even a General Election could delay Brexit further, he added, saying the UK could be “stuck in a zombieland where no decisions are being made”.

Mr Stewart told BBC Radio Scotland: “We could be trapped in the European Union in the middle of next year unless Parliament comes to a decision.”

Speaking on the Good Morning Scotland programme, he added: “If there was some easy solution to this we would have left the European Union already.”

He said he believed he could get a Brexit deal through the House of Commons – something Mrs May repeatedly failed to achieve.

But he insisted Parliament “won’t allow” the UK to leave without a formal deal in place, adding Brussels would not allow the deal to be renegotiated.

Persuading MPs to back the existing withdrawal deal is the “only logical position”, he added.

Mr Stewart said: “You’re not going to get a new deal out of Europe and you’re not going to get no-deal through Parliament so the only route is to get a deal through Parliament.

“How can I do differently to the Prime Minister? if I were lucky enough to be elected as Conservative leader I would come in with a mandate to take this deal through Parliament, it would be a completely different situation from the Prime Minister.”

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Speaking about those who said the UK could leave on October 31, if necessary without a deal, he added: “I think they are misleading themselves and others and that strategy is going to lead to delay.”

Both the 2016 Brexit vote and the 2014 Scottish independence referendum were “hugely disruptive”, he added.

Mr Stewart described the two referendums as being “deeply, deeply divisive”, saying: “Our country is split and indeed our individual nations are split, almost straight down the middle on these issues.

“It doesn’t matter how many referenda you hold, you simply find how much these things cause divisions.”

Mr Stewart told how he had “trusted” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond when they had described the 2014 referendum as a “once in a generation event”.

He said: “You have to ask what are you trying to do, what is the future you want together, and the answer to that is almost never creating a new line, a new border.

“Holding endless referenda simply destabilises, polarises, divides our society and creates uncertainty.”