Brussels demands answers from UK on Brexit plan after deal rejected again
The European Union has called for a “clear answer” from the UK about its next step in the Brexit process after MPs rejected Theresa May’s deal.
The Commons is now set to vote on whether to accept a no-deal Brexit after Mrs May suffered a humiliating defeat as her EU Withdrawal Agreement was rejected for a second time.
With a majority of MPs expected to reject leaving without a deal on March 29, the prospect of a delay to Brexit is increasing – but the EU wants to know what the purpose of any extension would be given Parliament’s inability to agree on a way forward.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier again insisted there will be no further offer from Brussels apart from the deal already on the table, and it is now “the responsibility of the UK” to suggest a way forward.
He told the European Parliament: “What will their choice be, what will be the line they will take? That is the question we need a clear answer to now. That is the question that has to be answered before a decision on a possible further extension.
“Why would we extend these discussions? The discussion on Article 50 is done and dusted. We have the Withdrawal Agreement. It is there.
“That is the question asked and we are waiting for an answer to that.”
Mr Barnier added: “The risk of no-deal has never been higher. That is the risk of an exit – even by accident – by the UK from the EU in a disorderly fashion.”
In order to avoid a walkout by Cabinet ministers who oppose a no-deal Brexit, Mrs May has given Tories a free vote on Wednesday evening’s no-deal motion.
They will vote on a motion stating: “This House declines to approve leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a framework on the future relationship on March 29.”
If MPs reject no-deal – as most Westminster observers expect – a third vote will follow on Thursday on whether to authorise Mrs May to request an extension of the two-year Article 50 negotiation process.
Members of the Malthouse Compromise group of Tories from both Leave and Remain wings immediately tabled an amendment proposing a “standstill” agreement lasting as late as the end of 2021, during which the UK would observe EU rules and pay into Brussels budgets while a full trade deal is negotiated.
Mr Barnier has already insisted there could not be a “transition” period without a full Withdrawal Agreement.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said he would prefer a no-deal scenario – even though it risks economic harm and threatens to break up the United Kingdom – to the prospect of not leaving the European Union.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Between those very unpleasant choices, I think no Brexit is the bigger risk.”
But Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, one of the ministers who may have quit if asked to back a no-deal Brexit, told Sky News: “Leaving without a deal would be very bad for our economy, very bad for our security.”
In preparation for a no-deal outcome, the UK has set out its new tariff schedule which would force up prices on EU imports including cars and many food products but could reduce costs on goods from elsewhere.
The CBI warned the new tariffs would act as a “sledgehammer” to the economy.
The UK Government will also not introduce any new checks or controls on goods moving across the land border into Northern Ireland, raising fears it would potentially create a loophole which could be exploited by smugglers.
The Brexit deal was defeated by 149 votes on Tuesday night, with 75 Conservatives rebelling.
Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said he still expects Brussels to come up with a new deal, telling LBC Radio: “The horses always change places in the final furlong, it’s always at five minutes to midnight that the real deal is done.”
He said it is “absurd” for Mrs May to grant a free vote on no-deal, because it is a “fundamental” part of the Brexit negotiating strategy.