British Parliament inches closer to delaying Brexit

LONDON • The British Parliament is moving closer to a plan to delay Brexit, to stop the country from dropping out of the European Union with no deal and to avoid the risk of an economically damaging divorce.

The main opposition Labour Party is increasingly likely to support a proposal to extend the March 29 exit deadline if Prime Minister Theresa May fails to negotiate a divorce agreement, said Mr John McDonnell, the party's chief finance spokesman.

He described the proposal as a sensible way to avoid the upheaval of a disastrous no-deal Brexit.

"I actually do believe that we are facing, with a no-deal, potentially quite catastrophic consequences for people's living standards - that is why we have said we have got to avoid it," he told the BBC's Newsnight television programme. "I think there is a majority in Parliament for avoiding no deal."

If Labour does support the proposal - put forward by lawmakers including Ms Yvette Cooper, a former minister - it is far more likely to win enough backing to be passed. That would force Mrs May's hand and ensure she cannot take Britain out of the EU without a deal in nine weeks' time.

Mrs May said attempts to delay Brexit did not address the underlying decision about how Britain should leave the EU.

"The decision remains the same - no deal, a deal or no Brexit," she told Parliament yesterday.

 
 
 
 
 

Brexit is at an impasse, with Members of Parliament overwhelmingly opposed to the divorce agreement Mrs May has negotiated with the EU and time running short for delivering an orderly separation.

If Parliament refuses to endorse the exit terms, Britain will be on course to fall out of the EU with no agreement on March 29 - an outcome the British authorities say could deliver as much as a 25 per cent hit to the pound and a 30 per cent hit to house prices, risking a recession.

Last week, Mrs May's deal was rejected in the biggest defeat suffered by a British government in the House of Commons in recent history. In the week since she lost the vote, she has tried - and so far failed - to reach a cross-party consensus on the way forward.

She is pinning her hopes on persuading the EU to back down and make changes to the terms of Britain's departure.

With the prospect of any significant alterations to the deal seeming unlikely, MPs are taking matters into their own hands.

The EU's executive said yesterday that the bloc would do its utmost to avoid extensive border controls between EU member state Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland regardless of how Brexit goes, a spokesman said.

The Irish border issue remains the biggest obstacle to a divorce deal being agreed between Britain and the EU in the countdown to Brexit.

Mr Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission's chief spokesman, told a news conference: "The EU is determined to do all it can - deal or no deal - to avoid a hard border in Ireland."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2019, with the headline 'British Parliament inches closer to delaying Brexit'. Print Edition | Subscribe