Theresa May faces new battle over 'bid to block no-deal Brexit'

Theresa May in Brussels More

Comments by May's chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, overheard by an ITV correspondent at a hotel bar in Brussels have done little to boost trust among lawmakers.

European Union Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Monday British Prime Minister Theresa May should endorse a permanent customs union with the bloc - as proposed by the opposition Labour party - to break the impasse over their looming divorce. "We want to leave with a deal and that is what we are working for".

Mrs May's official spokesman told reporters at a Westminster media briefing: "What the motion reflects is the position the Prime Minister set out after those votes, which is the Parliament wants the United Kingdom to leave with a deal, but in order to do so it requires us to secure legally-binding changes in relation to the backstop".

She insisted that the government still intends to leave the European Union on 29 March with a deal in place - but Downing Street has stressed that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit "remains on the table", saying it is an "eventuality we wish to avoid, but one we continue to plan for".

"They have obviously elections for the parliament and a commission that will be formed at the end of May, so there is no desire on the European side to see what one described to me as an "extension in darkness", where there is no clarity as to why we are extending".

The ERG looks likely to vote against May's Brexit motion on Thursday, because "it rules out no deal and removes our negotiating leverage in Brussels", according to the group's vice chair Mark Francois.

Labour's Brexit policy chief Keir Starmer told the Sunday Times newspaper that his party would seek to use the debate in parliament this week to prevent May from waiting until the last minute to come back with a deal, and compel her to present a fresh accord for lawmakers to consider before February 26.

He was said to have indicated that if MPs did not vote for a deal, then the delay to the UK's final departure would be "a long one".

Answering questions in the House of Commons, Mrs May insisted the Government's position concerning the Article 50 withdrawal process had not changed.

If parliament does not ultimately approve a deal, under current legislation Britain will leave without an agreement, an outcome many businesses say would be catastrophic for the world's fifth largest economy by causing major delays at ports, fracturing global supply chains and hindering investment.

It is also backed by Tory MP Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour's Jack Dromey, who last month tabled a non-binding amendment opposing a no-Brexit which did win Commons support.

Meanwhile, the group led by Ms Cooper and Sir Oliver said they were preparing plans to enable Parliament to prevent the country falling into a no-deal Brexit "by accident". Also, many members from Mays Conservative party voted against the Deal.

No date has yet been set for another parliamentary vote on the prime minister's Brexit deal following its historic defeat in the House of Commons last month, suggesting that the deal will not be put to a vote again until March.

With 45 days to go, former attorney general Dominic Grieve warned that time was running perilously short for ratification of any deal under the terms of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.

"I am told that it does not mince its words and it makes it very plain that that outcome would be disastrous for British business", she told the BBC.

But Mrs May responded: "In this instance MPs will already have debated and approved the agreement as part of the meaningful vote". "She is playing for time and playing with people's jobs, our economic security and the future of our industry", he said.

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