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3rd Mar 2024

UK takes another step closer to no-deal EU exit

  • MPs rejected four Brexit options on Monday, as the 12 April no-deal exit looms (Photo: House of Commons)

British MPs have rejected four further Brexit options, putting the spotlight on a last round of voting before the new EU exit date.

The rejections, on Monday (1 April), included one to negotiate a new form of "customs union" and one called "common market 2.0", to go back to the kind of basic trade relations the UK had with the then European Community in the 1980s.

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MPs also failed to back the idea of holding a second referendum and of unilaterally revoking Brexit altogether.

They plan to hold another round of votes on Wednesday - the last chance to put a deal in place before the UK leaves the EU on the new Brexit date of 12 April.

The parliament's Speaker had previously excluded the idea of a fourth vote on May's original EU withdrawal deal - to leave the EU but to stay in a customs union 'backstop' until both sides found a way to keep open the Irish border.

But this could be sneaked back in by attaching it to a new amendment, calling for parliament to have a greater say in Brexit negotiations, which is up for Wednesday's vote.

The majority against May's deal has already shrunk from an original 230 in the first vote in January to just 58 in the third one last Friday.

May's cabinet - deeply divided between hardcore Brexiteers who now favour a no-deal, and more pragmatic ex-Remainers who want May's deal, or some other form of soft Brexit - is to meet for a five-hour session on Tuesday.

The government might still opt to try to leave with no deal, call a referendum to rule out a no-deal exit, call a confirmatory referendum on May's deal, or even call snap elections, British media reported variously on Monday.

A fourth, but positive vote would still require the other 27 EU leaders to agree to another extension of the Brexit date when they meet for an emergency summit on 10 April.

The extension would likely set 22 May as the new date, to allow the UK time to ratify the plan, but without it having to take part in the European Parliament elections at the end of May.

Monday's rejection of the customs union idea led to further recriminations on British confusion from the EU side.

"We now know what the British government does not want, but we still don't know what they do want," European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said.

"The British Parliament once again voted against all options. A hard Brexit is now almost inevitable," the European Parliament's Brexit spokesman, Guy Verhofstadt, said.

"On Wednesday, this is the last chance for the United Kingdom to break the deadlock or face the abyss," he added.

The EU and UK have already tabled emergency plans to allow transport operators and traders to keep doing business after 12 April even in a no-deal scenario.

But British manufacturers have been stockpiling goods for the past 32 months just in case there is a rupture in supply chains.

The so-called Purchasing Managers' Index for British firms rose from 52.1 in February to 55.1 March in one of its steepest jumps since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

"The survey is also picking up signs that EU companies are switching away from sourcing inputs from UK firms as Brexit approaches," Rob Dobson, the head of IHS Markit, the London-based firm which carried out the survey, said.

At the same time, more than six million people have signed a petition calling for the UK to halt Brexit - the largest of its kind in British parliamentary history.

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