EU leaders dismayed after Brexit divorce deal rejected, warn UK is running out of time

A man in London with a painting yesterday depicting British Prime Minister Theresa May after Parliament rejected her Brexit deal.
A man in London with a painting yesterday depicting British Prime Minister Theresa May after Parliament rejected her Brexit deal.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS • European Union leaders have expressed dismay and regret after the British Parliament rejected a Brexit divorce deal, saying they were stepping up emergency planning and warned that London was running out of time.

The EU's chief executive, the European Parliament Brexit negotiator and a host of prime ministers took to Twitter on Tuesday to call on London for ideas on what to do now to stop Britain crashing out of the bloc with no deal on March 29.

European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs EU summits, suggested that the only real solution was for Britain to stay in the EU after British lawmakers defeated Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit divorce deal by a crushing majority of 432 to 202.

"If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?" Mr Tusk tweeted after the vote.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has overseen two years of tortuous negotiations between London and Brussels, and offered assurances to Mrs May on the eve of the vote, said that for Britain, "time is almost up".

He warned in a statement that the chances of Britain leaving the bloc without an agreement had increased, referring to a so-called disorderly withdrawal, and that the commission would continue its no-deal preparations.

EU leaders, who signed off on the Brexit deal last month, have repeatedly said it was the best solution possible because it provided a transition period for businesses to adapt. Despite only 10 weeks to go until Britain's scheduled departure, officials in Brussels ruled out the prospect of an extraordinary summit of the other 27 EU leaders any time soon.


Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted: "I regret the outcome of the Brexit vote in the British Lower House in London. In any case, there will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement."

French President Emmanuel Macron said Britain would be the biggest loser if it crashed out of the EU without a deal. He indicated late on Tuesday that there was a small chance of very minor tweaks being made to the agreement. "Maybe we will make improvements on one or two things, but I don't really think so because we have reached the maximum of what we could do with the deal," he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told legislators she could not envisage renegotiating Britain's EU withdrawal agreement, but she did not rule out further clarifying Britain's future ties to the bloc, two meeting participants told Reuters.

EU leaders have insisted there could be no renegotiation.

But as the parliamentary defeat fed uncertainty in European capitals, several leaders called on Britain to come up with alter-natives to the rejected withdra-wal agreement.

The EU Parliament's Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said British lawmakers now needed to say what kind of deal they wanted.


"The UK Parliament has said what it doesn't want," Mr Verhofstadt, a former Belgian premier, said on Twitter. "Now, it is time to find out what UK parliamentarians want. "

France's Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau said yesterday that the EU could extend the deadline for Brexit beyond March 29 if Britain requested it.

Meanwhile a spokesman for Dr Merkel said the German government will tackle the issue of whether to extend the Brexit deadline only after it knows how Britain intends to proceed.

"First, we need to know where the British see things going, so this is a hypothetical question," said government spokesman Ulrike Demmer, when asked about a possible extension.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2019, with the headline 'EU leaders dismayed, warn UK is running out of time'. Print Edition | Subscribe