UK Cabinet meets to scale up no-deal Brexit planning
London: The UK Cabinet Tuesday ramped up contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit, which could see Britain leave the European Union without a formal divorce agreement in place in time for the March 29 deadline.
Preparations for such a chaotic scenario have become necessary because the deal proposed by British Prime Minister Theresa May remains unacceptable to most parties in the UK Parliament, mainly over a controversial “backstop” as part of the post-Brexit border arrangements between UK territory Northern Ireland and European Union member-country Ireland.
Critics of the deal fear the clause would keep the UK tied to the European Union (EU) even after it has formally left the 28-member economic bloc and curb its ability to strike independent trade deals around the world.
As a result of the impasse, the Cabinet is believed to have begun deliberations on Tuesday on how a 3 billion pound Brexit contingency fund, earmarked by the UK Treasury, would be split between the various government departments in the event of what is being dubbed a “managed no deal” Brexit.
It marks a significant shift in the UK government’s Brexit strategy, which is also being seen as a warning to the the EU that the UK is serious about walking away unless new concessions on the Irish backstop are granted.
The House of Commons needs to approve the agreement reached by prime minister May with EU leaders for it to go ahead and so far there seems little chance of that happening.
Amid heated exchanges in the Commons on Monday, Opposition Labour Party tabled a motion of no-confidence in the British Prime Minister after she refused to offer a vote on the deal before the week of January 14.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused her of trying to “run down the clock” to force MPs to back her agreement or risk a no-deal Brexit by the time they return from their Christmas recess.
But other Opposition parties, including the Scottish National Party (SNP), Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, demanded Corbyn push for a no-confidence vote against the government as a whole.
Unlike a vote aimed only at the British Prime Minister, the UK government would have to allow such a vote and, if successful, it could force a General Election.
Prime Minister May, bolstered by the backing of her own Conservative Party MPs not keen to see the government toppled, also dared Corbyn to make a no-confidence motion against her government if he feels his party is ready for such a scenario.
However, the divisions within the Opposition itself have meant that the motion was dismissed as a “political stunt” by Downing Street.
“Labour tabling a motion just in the PM rather than in the entire Government begs the question which Tory do they want to see as PM,” said Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader and the First Minister of Scotland, in an attack on the Labour Party for what is being seen as a half-hearted attempt at shaking up the government because it is not confident of the backing of Parliament over a no-confidence vote in the Tory government.
“We are not interested in parliamentary antics or play-acting of the Labour Party. We are focused on the meaningful vote and the need to secure necessary changes to ensure the right deal for the UK,” said Nigel Dodds of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which plays a crucial role in keeping May’s government in power by providing her the required MPs for a Commons majority.
Meanwhile, Britain’s exit arrangements and future relationship with the EU continue to hang in the balance.
There are supporters of a second referendum to seek fresh public opinion on the issue within the Cabinet but May has ruled out such a prospect as breaking faith with the electorate who voted in favour of Brexit in the June 2016 referendum.
“Another vote which would likely leave us no further forward than the last. And another vote which would further divide our country at the very moment we should be working to unite it,” she said.
May has insisted that the EU has listened to the concerns of the British MPs over the contentious issue of the Northern Ireland border backstop and she hopes to secure additional “political and legal assurances” in the coming weeks about how it might come into force and how the UK could leave it.
She is hoping to use the few weeks’ breathing space between now and when MPs return from parliamentary recess on January 7 to try and drive home this point in order to win the vote on her Brexit deal in Parliament.