British Prime Minister Theresa May is scrambling to put together a new Brexit strategy after lawmakers rejected her EU divorce deal, saying that she could not rule out a potentially damaging “no-deal” split.
The world’s fifth-largest economy is in political turmoil and grasping for solutions that could smooth its planned departure in just 10 weeks from the bloc after 46 years.
Governments across Europe have triggered plans designed to avoid logjams at ports and airports when trade barriers go up should London fail to find a “Plan B.”
The British government has held individual talks with lawmakers from rival parties after narrowly surviving a confidence vote brought on by the crushing defeat over her deal with Brussels on Tuesday.
However, main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called the talks a “stunt” and refused to meet May until she rules out the possibility of Britain crashing out without any future arrangements in place.
In a written response to him on Thursday, the prime minister said that it was “impossible” for her to rule out a “no deal” scenario without stopping the process altogether.
“It is not within the government’s power to rule out no deal,” she wrote.
May is on Monday to present her new approach to the British House of Commons. Lawmakers would then have a chance to submit amendments before a full debate on Jan. 29 — exactly two months before the Brexit date.
Downing Street on Thursday said that May would miss next week’s annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, to focus on Brexit negotiations.
Meanwhile, leading Brexit campaigner and UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has urged “Leave” campaigners to prepare for the possibility of a second referendum as Britain’s deadlock continues.
“I don’t want it any more than you do, but I am saying to you we have to face reality,” he told a Leave Means Leave rally in London on Thursday night.
Opposition lawmakers have pressed May to abandon the main principles that have guided her Brexit strategy over the past two years.
Corbyn said that she must “ditch the red lines” that would keep Britain from forging closer trade relations with Europe after Brexit.
He specifically mentioned maintaining a customs union with the EU that some businesses favor, but May rejects because it limits Britain’s ability to strike its own trade deals.
“Theresa May has to ditch the red lines and get serious about proposals for the future,” Corbyn told supporters in the southeastern town of Hastings.
Corbyn has previously accused May of trying to force lawmakers to back her plan by running down the clock until it is the only alternative to no deal.
British media reported that Corbyn was also asking Labour members not to engage with May’s ministers as they hold separate lower-level talks across party lines.
He said that Labour intends to hold another confidence vote “if necessary” as part of his bid for a general election that he has said would resolve the impasse.
May’s meetings late on Wednesday with the pro-EU Liberal Democrat party and 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,” SNP parliamentary leader Ian Blackford said in a letter to May released after their meeting.
The Liberal Democrats are specifically seeking a referendum that includes the option of scrapping Brexit and keeping the UK in the EU.
“The government now needs to get serious about making significant changes to their own position,” the Liberal Democrats said in a statement on Thursday. “The ball is ultimately in their court.”
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