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Soft Brexit hopes dashed as UK MPs say 'no' to four more options

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Hopes that a majority of British politicians would embrace a soft Brexit were dashed last night as parliament again rejected all pathways to leaving the EU.

The deadlock in Westminster remains with just 10 days until the next Brexit deadline, fuelling fears that the UK will crash out of the union.

Prime Minister Theresa May will discuss the crisis with her divided Cabinet today and is believed to want to a fourth vote on her own deal.

Extension

While the UK Parliament continues its internal battle, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be pleading with EU capitals look favourably on a long Brexit extension rather than force a no-deal scenario.

His conversations with leaders begin in Paris today where French President Emmanuel Macron is reported to be extremely sceptical about allowing the UK take part in European elections next month.

In a statement last night, Mr Varadkar said Brexit is at a "critical juncture".

Four options were presented to MPs in the House of Commons yesterday but all were rejected. The House was heavily split on the idea of entering a customs union or common market arrangement with the EU. Both approaches would be welcomed in Dublin.

The custom union, which was defeated by just three votes, would not solve the Irish border question but it would guarantee smooth and tariff-free trade in goods across the border.

In order to maintain the status quo, the UK and Ireland would still have to negotiate a way of ensuring food and animal standards are aligned between Northern Ireland and the EU. Some 280 MPs voted in favour of a second referendum but 292 voted against one.

The Paris meeting between Mr Varadkar and Mr Macron is likely to be closely monitored in London. The French government are increasingly frustrated with events in the UK and wary of granting a lengthy Brexit extension.

Mr Macron is also likely to seek assurances that Ireland will protect the EU's single market in the event of a disorderly Brexit. The Taoiseach has repeatedly acknowledged that this country has a responsibility to the remaining EU27 - but he has insisted this cannot be through border controls on the island of Ireland.

He is expected to spend the coming days urging EU leaders to show patience must while the UK tries to find a way forward, making the point a delay is better than no-deal.

Solidarity

Last night Mr Varadkar said he will thank the French for their "ongoing solidarity" with the Irish cause and commitment to the backstop.

"I am keen to discuss the possible scenarios arising from this week, particularly how the European Council should respond to a request for another extension, should there be one, and ongoing efforts to secure ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement," he said.

"As I have indicated, it is now up to the UK to show how it plans to proceed and avoid a No Deal scenario.

"We are preparing for all outcomes, and have prepared intensively for a No Deal," he said.