EU expects UK to stay after Brexit vote defeat

BRUSSELS, 16 Jan 2019: 

EU leaders expressed dismay and regret after the British parliament rejected a Brexit divorce deal yesterday, saying they were stepping up emergency planning and warned London was running out of time.

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?” 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 May on the eve of the vote, said that for Britain: “Time is almost up.”

He warned in a statement 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 later today, warned 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,” 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.”

The humiliating loss, the first British parliamentary defeat of a treaty since 1864, appeared to catastrophically undermine May’s two-year strategy of forging an amicable divorce with close ties to the EU after the March 29 exit.

With May vowing to stand by her deal and Labour trying to trigger a national election, parliament is still effectively deadlocked, with no alternative proposal.

May’s spokesman told reporters that May’s deal could still form the basis of an accord with the EU, but opponents disagreed.

“This deal is dead,” said Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party’s most prominent Brexiteer, who urged May to go back to Brussels to seek better terms.

If there was any consolation for May, it was that her internal adversaries appeared set to fight off the attempt to topple her.

The small Northern Irish DUP party, which props up May’s minority government and refused to back the deal, said it would still stand behind May in the no-confidence vote. The pro-Brexit Conservatives who were the most vehement opponents of her deal also said they would support her.

Labour has said if it fails to trigger an election then it will look at the possibility of supporting another referendum.

A Labour Party spokesman said it was becoming more likely that Britain would have to ask the EU to postpone the March 29 departure date required by the Article 50 withdrawal notice.

Ever since Britain voted by 52%-48% to leave the EU in a referendum in June 2016, the political class has been debating how to leave the European project forged by France and Germany after the devastation of World War Two.

While the country is divided over EU membership, most agree that the world’s fifth largest economy is at a crossroads and that its choices over Brexit will shape the prosperity of future generations.

“UK assets will continue to be vulnerable to the political volatility and we don’t expect this will subside until a concrete conclusion emerges,” UBS Wealth Management told clients.

Supporters of EU membership cast Brexit as a gigantic mistake that will undermine the West, smash Britain’s reputation as a stable destination for investment and slowly weaken London’s position as a global capital.

Brexit supporters cast leaving as a way to break free from a Union they see as overly bureaucratic and fast falling behind the leading economic powers of the 21st century, the US and China.

– Reuters