Saturday

4th Feb 2023

May calls for third vote on EU exit deal

  • Britain's unilateral rule-out of a no-deal Brexit was like 'the Titanic voting for the iceberg to get out of the way', Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said (Photo: EUobserver)

British prime minister Theresa May has urged MPs to back her EU exit deal in a third vote or face a Brexit delay of up to two years.

But EU leaders might not agree to a delay, with EU institutions pushing them to take a hard line, and with a no-deal Brexit on 29 March still the default legal option for now.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"If the house finds a way in the coming days to support a deal, it would allow the government to seek a short limited technical extension to [Brexit] ... to pass the necessary legislation and ratify the agreement," May told parliament on Wednesday (13 March).

"If it is not willing to support a deal in the coming days ... then it is suggesting that there will need to be a much longer extension," she said.

The third vote on the EU exit accord would take place on 20 March, she added.

MPs already rejected it twice due to fears it could leave the UK stuck in the EU customs union indefinitely because of arrangements concerning the Irish border.

But the majority against the accord shrunk from 230 in the first vote to 149 in the second one, prompting Goldman Sachs, a leading bank, for one, to estimate that there was a 55 percent chance that a third attempt might succeed.

May spoke after MPs earlier on Wednesday voted to rule out a no-deal EU departure under any circumstances due to the legal and economic disarray that that would cause.

They will vote again on Thursday on whether to back May's motion on the short delay.

But whatever kind of delay they ask for, the UK will remain on course to leave the EU on 29 March unless the 27 other EU leaders also agree, by consensus, to grant their wishes at a summit in Brussels on 21 March.

France, Germany, and Ireland have indicated that they would be open to a short extension. "We still hope that we can avoid an unregulated Brexit," German foreign minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday.

But other countries, including the Netherlands, have taken a harder line.

The British MPs' vote to unilaterally rule out a no-deal Brexit on 29 March was like "the Titanic voting for the iceberg to get out of the way", Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday.

Hardball

The European Commission and the European Parliament also urged the EU-27 to play hardball.

EU leaders should not agree to an extension in order to let the UK renegotiate the exit deal, Michel Barnier, the commission's Brexit negotiator, told MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday.

"Why would we extend these discussions? The discussion ... is done and dusted. We have the withdrawal agreement. It is there," he said.

EU leaders should also reject May's idea of a "short technical extension" and should agree on a long extension only if the UK was to hold snap elections or a second referendum, Barnier's deputy, Sabine Weyand, added.

The British MPs' unilateral rule-out of a no-deal exit was "divorced from reality", she said, echoing Rutte.

"They [the UK] decided to leave - it's their problem, not ours," Antonio Tajani, the European Parliament president, also told German media, in a sign of sour grapes in Brussels.

"It's a matter now of avoiding the biggest mistake of all - a chaotic Brexit without contractual arrangements in place," he added.

Big mistake

With 15 days to go before that happens, MEPs approved temporary emergency measures on Wednesday to let airlines keep flying between the UK and Europe, on the rights of UK residents, and on fishing access, among other items.

The UK also published a memo saying it would not impose tariffs on 87 percent of EU goods imported into the country or impose new border checks as of 30 March.

With May now holding backroom talks with hardline Brexiteers and Northern Irish MPs who rejected her deal the first two times around, British finance minister, Philip Hammond, whose job was to protect British businesses from harm, urged them to get behind her on the third time around.

"Tomorrow [Thursday], we will have the opportunity to start to map out a way forward towards building a consensus ... to exit the EU in an orderly way, to a future relationship [with Europe] that will allow Britain to flourish, protecting jobs and businesses," he said in parliament on Wednesday.

A no-deal exit would harm not just Great Britain's economy, but also its "standing and reputation in the world", he said.

Legal uncertainty hangs over Brexit vote

Uncertainty continued to hang over Tuesday night's big vote on Brexit, as British MPs and their lawyers tried to make sense of last-minute tweaks to the exit deal.

Opinion

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

Opinion

Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think

'Europeans need to pull their weight in Ukraine. They should pony up more funds.' Such has been the chorus since the start of the war. The problem is the argument isn't borne out by the facts, at least not anymore.

Column

Democracy — is it in crisis or renaissance?

Countries that were once democratising are now moving in the other direction — think of Turkey, Myanmar, Hungary or Tunisia. On the other hand, in autocracies mass mobilisation rarely succeeds in changing political institutions. Think of Belarus, Iran or Algeria.

Latest News

  1. Greece faces possible court over 'prison-like' EU-funded migration centres
  2. How the centre-right can take on hard-right and win big in 2024
  3. Top EU officials show Ukraine solidarity on risky trip
  4. MEPs launch anonymous drop-box for shady lobbying secrets
  5. Hawkish ECB rate-rise 'puts energy transition at risk'
  6. MEPs push for greater powers for workers' councils
  7. How Pavel won big as new Czech president — and why it matters
  8. French official to take on Islamophobia in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us