Fresh off a visit to the EU-Arab summit Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, British Prime Minister Theresa May told the press that an extension of Article 50 – the provision that gives any EU member the right to quit the block unilaterally and outlines the procedure for doing so – does not provide a guarantee that the House of Commons will vote in favour of a withdrawal agreement.
“What it does is precisely what the word ‘delay’ says. It just delays the point at which you come to that decision; And I think that any extension of Article 50, in that sense, isn’t addressing the issue,” said May who also added that sealing a new agreement with the EU before March 29 is “within our grasp.”
May is due to address the House of Commons on February 26 about any of the progress made on the Brexit front, while her team will return to Brussels to continue talks with the EU.
While in Egypt, May reportedly considered a plan under which Britain’s exit from the European Union would be delayed for up to two months. On a practical level, this would mean that the UK would still leave the EU before the European Parliamentary elections in May, but the proposal has been vehemently opposed by Brexit hardliners who have threatened a revolt in May’s cabinet if she were to move forward with pushing the withdrawal date back by 60 days.
There are, however, dissenting views within the Conservative Party outside of the three MPs that defected last week. UK government officials have drawn up a series of options for May, including an option for the government to support a backbench bid to take a “no deal” Brexit off the table.
Despite being unable to keep both sides on board, May has maintained that it is possible to secure concessions from Brussels on the question of the Irish backstop that could convince Brexit hardliners to vote for the Withdrawal Agreement.
In order to buy enough time to continue her talks with the EU, May rescheduled a “meaningful vote” on the Withdrawal Agreement that was scheduled for February 27 to March 12.
The EU has made clear that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be renegotiated. Although both Brussels and Ireland are willing to offer political assurances on the Irish backstop – the guarantee that the Irish border remains open for a limited time regardless of the outcome of the UK and EU’s future relationship negotiations.
Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on February 24 that he finds the possibility of a no deal Brexit unlikely, a sentiment that was refuted by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte who warned that “we are sleepwalking into a no-deal scenario.”
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) warned on February 24 that a no deal Brexit would inflict lasting damage on the insurance industry because World Trade Organization rules would mean the UK could be completely cut off the Single Market.
ABI Director Huw Evans urged the government to make a deal or postponement Britain’s withdrawal, saying he worried that the UK would no longer have decision-sharing authority in the insurance industry once the country left the EU.
The British aerospace body also issued a statement warning of real economic damage from Brexit. The group represents some of the biggest corporate behemoths in the UK, including Airbus, Boeing, and BAE Systems. The body’s CEO, Paul Everitt, called for a “firm transition period” and fast truck negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with Brussels.