European Union won't budge on Brexit deal as May seeks cross-party unity

Daniel Fowler
January 31, 2019

The EU says Britain would have to organise European Parliament elections on its soil if it were to delay Brexit beyond that as otherwise its people would be deprived of their democratic representation while still being in the EU. A bid to delay Brexit if no deal can be agreed, which was rejected by the House of Commons on Tuesday, could return, as could calls for a second Brexit referendum.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said it was "an extraordinary situation when a prime minister and a government negotiates a deal and then goes back and during the ratification process votes against their own deal". If that fails, parliament will vote on next steps on February 14.

If May does not get a deal approved by parliament by March 29, Britain faces a disorderly exit, or may be forced to seek an extension of Article 50 to give more time to reach an agreement.

It is time to draw the first phase of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union to a close, and in order to do that we have to agree a deal with the European Union that gets us on to negotiating our future trading relationship.

The EU parliament's point-man on Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt, underlined that nobody in Europe wanted to use the backstop, but that it's "needed to be 100 percent sure that there is no border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic".

British lawmakers voted on Tuesday to send May back to Brussels seeking to replace an Irish border provision in the deal with "alternative arrangements", ignoring European Union warnings that the agreement can not be altered.

"The backstop is part of the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Withdrawal Agreement is not open for renegotiation", the spokesman said.

'The Withdrawal Agreement will not be renegotiated'. Tuesday night's votes showed that a majority of MPs can be assembled if the concerns about the Northern Ireland backstop in the draft withdrawal agreement are addressed.

Opposition parties have repeatedly accused May of "running down the clock", assuming that the closer Britain gets to a potentially catastrophic "no deal" exit, the more likely MPs will be to support her agreement to avoid it.

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"UK beneficiaries of European Union funding would continue to receive payments under their current contracts, provided that the United Kingdom continues to honour its financial obligations under the European Union budget", the commission said in a statement.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sat out cross-party Brexit talks ahead of the vote but will now meet May on Wednesday to discuss the way ahead.

If they start working together, he said, "it could be the solution to this problem".

One passed amendment - Amendment I - rules out the no-deal Brexit option.

Juncker called on British lawmakers to make clear what they want.

And he told MEPs in the European Parliament: 'The debate and votes in the House of Commons yesterday do not change that.

"There will be a price to pay, but the calculus made on this side of the Channel is the price of hurting the integrity of the single market will be bigger, and if we have a choice to make between two evils, then no deal is the lesser evil", he said.

The bank now puts the likelihood of "no deal" at 15% rather than 10%, and reduced the likelihood of Brexit being cancelled from 40% to 35%.

Jill Lawless reported from London.

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