LONDON • British Prime Minister (PM) Theresa May scrambled to put together a new Brexit strategy yesterday after MPs rejected her European Union (EU) divorce plan and demanded that she rule out a potentially disastrous “no-deal” exit.
May held individual talks with MPs from rival parties after narrowly surviving a confidence vote triggered by the crushing defeat over her Brexit deal on Tuesday.
But the leader of the main Opposition Labour party refused to meet the PM until she ruled out the possibility of the UK crashing out of the 27-nation bloc without any future arrangements in place.
May is trying to hammer out a new approach that she can present to the House of Commons on Monday. MPs are scheduled to debate the next steps on Jan 29 — just two months before Brexit day.
The world’s fifth-largest economy will on March 29 break off from its closest trading partner after 46 years — and has no new arrangements in place.
The island nation is still embroiled in many of the same arguments about its place in the world that were raging when voters defied government warnings and opted to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum.
Terms and Conditions
May’s offer of talks came after a hectic 24 hours in which her Brexit deal was rejected by a historic 230 votes in the Commons.
She then defeated an attempt to oust her government by a majority of 19.
The PM ran into immediate hurdles as senior Opposition MPs demanded the government abandon the main principles that have guided its Brexit strategy for the past two years.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said May must “ditch the red lines” that keep Britain from forging closer trade relations with the other 27 EU nations after Brexit.
He has so far refused to discuss a new plan until she rules out the possibility that Britain might leave the EU without any deal at all.
“May has to ditch the red lines and get serious about proposals for the future,” Corbyn told supporters in the southeastern town of Hastings.
A “no deal” scenario would see trade barriers go up overnight as existing agreements between Britain and the EU expire on March 29.
Corbyn has previously accused May of trying to force MPs to back her plan by running down the clock until it is the only alternative to no deal.
He also warned yesterday that Labour would trigger another confidence vote “if necessary”.
May’s meetings late on Wednesday with the pro-EU Liberal Democrat (Lib Dem) party and the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties also yielded fresh demands.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) is trying to rule out “no-deal” and secure a second referendum for which Brexit would need to be delayed.
“For any discussion between your government and the SNP to be meaningful, these options must be on the table,” its parliamentary leader Ian Blackford said in a letter to May released after their meeting.
But Lib Dem leader Vince Cable said May showed a strong desire to engage with her parliamentary foes.
“I think in the current state of crisis that is a positive,” he told BBC Radio.
Clinging to Power
May hinted on Wednesday that Brexit might be postponed if London rallies around a single set of proposals that it could present to the EU.
She told Parliament that Brussels would allow a delay “if it was clear that there was a plan towards moving towards an agreed deal”.
The British pound has rallied over the course of the week on expectations of a postponement that keeps Britain from crashing out of the world’s largest single market.
May’s spokesman yesterday conceded that EU officials had raised the issue.
But he added that a delay had not been formally discussed “because we do not wish to do it”. The UK government maintains that Brexit day is March 29.
The PM would face intense Opposition from Brexit supporters in her Conservative party to any delay — as she also would if she abandoned any of her key negotiating principles.
She has repeated her desire to limit EU migration and pursue an independent trade policy.
The two ideas that are odds with Opposition’s hopes for membership of an EU customs union or its single market.
Yet, some Cabinet ministers have suggested that she will have to compromise further.
“Everything is up for discussion but what isn’t going to be an outcome is arrangements that seek to stop Brexit,” Scottish Secretary David Mundell told BBC Radio.