EU leaders express dismay after British PM Theresa May's Brexit defeat

Protesters' flags flutter as Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement on a video screen outside the Houses of Parliament after being defeated in the vote on Brexit. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - European Union leaders expressed dismay and regret on Tuesday (Jan 15) 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 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 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 margin 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 in December, have repeatedly said it was the best solution possible because it provided a transition period for businesses to adapt.

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.

The Irish government urged Britain to set out how it proposed moving forward, and Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who is due to address the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, warned that an abrupt British exit from the EU would be "catastrophic".

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 alternatives to the rejected withdrawal agreement.

Echoing the frustration of leaders of Belgium, Denmark and Luxembourg, who reacted in succession on social media and said they were actively preparing for a no-deal scenario, 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. In the meantime, the rights of citizens must be safeguarded."

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