Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 June 2019

UK MPs to vote for Brexit delay amid government ‘meltdown’

Prime Minister Theresa May will make a third bid to push her unpopular plan through parliament

An anti-Brexit campaigner joins the noisy protests outside of parliament over Brexit. Getty
An anti-Brexit campaigner joins the noisy protests outside of parliament over Brexit. Getty

The UK is expected to ask the European Union for a delay to Brexit on Thursday with little sign that the country’s squabbling politicians are any nearer to solving the political crisis.

Prime Minister Theresa May will make a third attempt to push through a deal she negotiated with the EU in the coming days despite two heavy defeats in parliament that has left her authority in tatters.

She warned that the failure to agree a deal before a March 21 EU summit would result in a long delay that would force the UK to take part in European parliament elections set for May.

"I do not think that would be the right outcome," the Prime Minister said. "But the House needs to face up to the consequences of the decisions it has taken."

A deeply divided parliament will vote later on Thursday to push back the planned departure date of March 29 in an attempt to secure a deal but the request would have to be supported by all the other 27 member states.

Mrs May is pushing for a short delay to June 30 but ministers have reportedly discussed the possibility of a two-year delay, according to the pro-Brexit Daily Telegraph.

The vote for a delay followed another humiliation for Mrs May after a rebellion from within government ranks on Wednesday led to another defeat in parliament.

MPs voted to rule out leaving the EU without a deal on future relations with the EU in place, the scenario that British businesses and the central bank have repeatedly warned would be worst for the economy.

Eighteen members of the government rebelled but only one junior minister quit after opposing the government’s line.

However, the vote will have limited effect as it is not legally binding and MPs “may as well have adopted a motion to abolish all evil in this world,” said website Politico.

If MPs vote to request a delay and it is then rejected, Britain could still leave on March 29 without any deal in place severing decades of trade agreements and regulations at a stroke and plunging the UK’s economy into crisis.

“There are only two ways to leave the EU: with or without a deal,” said the European Commission. “The EU is prepared for both.

“To take no deal off the table, it is not enough to vote against no deal - you have to agree to a deal. We have agreed a deal with the prime minister and the EU is ready to sign it.”

The British media were damning of the process with several front-page headlines describing a “meltdown” at the heart of government.

Mrs May’s former adviser, Nick Timothy, wrote in The Telegraph that she had lost her ability to “lead her party, her Government and the country”.

“Her deal is dead,” he wrote. “And the country is heading for a softer Brexit – or worse, no Brexit at all.”

Pro-Brexit MPs called for the four senior ministers who failed to back the government’s line in the vote to be sacked.

"It is, of course, extraordinary to see such a collapse in discipline,” Steve Baker, a senior member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group told ITV. “And in any other circumstances, of course, they would be fired.”

Sterling rallied after the show of strength by MPs against a no-deal Brexit but analysts warned of further volatility with the ruling party in chaos and no replacement agreement in sight.

"Unfortunately, the law makers in the UK are like headless chickens with no clue which way to go,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Think Markets UK.

Updated: March 14, 2019 01:04 PM

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