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Brexit crisis deepens as MPs say no to May's deal for second time

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British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Reuters

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Reuters

British politicians now face the stark choice of actively pursuing a no-deal Brexit or begging the EU to allow them to stall the process.

The risk of the UK crashing out of the EU in 16 days time has increased dramatically on foot of Prime Minister Theresa May's Strasbourg deal being roundly rejected.

Irish hopes are now firmly pinned on Article 50 being extended beyond March 29.

However, aware that many EU capitals are wary of prolonging the Brexit debacle, Mrs May has also raised the possibility of a second referendum.

"The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension," she told the House of Commons.

Tariffs

"This House will have to answer that question. Does it wish to revoke Article 50? Does it want to hold a second referendum? Or does it want to leave with a deal but not this deal?"

A group of hard-line Brexiteers including Jacob Rees-Mogg last night joined forces with the DUP's Nigel Dodds to formally propose that Brexit be delayed until May 22 - the day before European elections.

They have tabled an amendment to the motion planned by Mrs May which states this time period would allow businesses to prepare for tariffs.

Sources in Dublin said the Government would "help" the UK to lobby other countries for an extension because "March 29 was always a UK deadline, not an EU one".

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Simon Coveney are increasingly aware of the need for a "clear logic" as to why a postponement should be granted.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is considered an ally of the Taoiseach on the European Council, said last night that a request from the UK must have "credible and convincing justification".

"The smooth functioning of the EU institutions needs to be ensured," he said.

While open to the idea of an extension, EU chiefs moved swiftly to shut down any suggestion that Mrs May could seek more changes to the operation of the Irish backstop.

European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU had "done all that is possible to reach an agreement".

"Should there be a UK-reasoned request for an extension, the EU27 will consider it and decide by unanimity," he said.

The House of Commons will vote tonight on a motion to test whether MPs support leaving the EU without a deal. The idea is expected to be defeated.

This will open the door to another vote tomorrow on a possible extension.

Delay

In a further complication, it is understood the length of that delay would have to be agreed by politicians in London before a request goes to the EU.

The first proposal to surface is from a group of lawmakers who want to delay the exit until May 22 and mitigate the consequence of leaving without a deal by seeking 'standstill arrangements' with the EU.

The DUP-backed motion also urges the government to offer "a further set of mutual standstill agreements with the EU and member states for an agreed period ending no later than December 30, 2021, during which period the UK would pay an agreed sum equivalent to its net EU contributions and satisfy its other public international law obligations".

Mr Dodds said the best way to get a Brexit deal through parliament was for the government to maintain that it would be willing to walk away from talks and leave the bloc without a deal.

"Once you take that threat off, you are bound to be offered terms which are less advantageous," he said.

Mrs May said last night that she "passionately" believed the best outcome for the UK was to agree a deal.

In a clear reference to Northern Ireland, she said she was acutely aware of the "potential damage to the Union that leaving without a deal could do when one part of our country is without devolved governance".

She will today outline the reality of a hard Brexit so that MPs are "fully informed in making this historic decision".

Mr Coveney said he was "deeply disappointed" that the meaningful vote in Westminster failed to get support.

Avoiding a crash-out Brexit could not be done without MPs "agreeing something", he said, adding that a no deal would be a "lose, lose, lose" scenario for everyone. "The focus has to be on London. That's where the crisis is," he said.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin told the Dail yesterday that a no-deal scenario "must be avoided".


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