Theresa May should delay Brexit to avoid catastrophic no-deal EU exit, say MPs

Matt Cardy/ Getty ImagesBritish prime minister and Conservative party leader Theresa May.
  • The government should seek an extension to Article 50 in case MPs vote against May’s Brexit deal, according to the cross-party Brexit select committee.
  • MPs would be able to vote against Theresa May’s Brexit bill in parliament and send her back to Brussels, the report said.
  • However, that scenario would risk running down the clock until March next year, when Britain would crash out of the EU without a deal.
  • The committee said there was no guarantee that the EU would grant an extension to Article 50.
  • “Time is not on our side,” said Hillary Benn, chair of the committee.

LONDON – The government should consider extending Article 50 to avoid a catastrophic “no-deal” exit from the EU, according to the influential Brexit select committee, which warned Theresa May could run out of time if MPs vote against her final Brexit deal.

In a report published on Thursday, the committee said the terms of Article 50 – the two-year EU exit process which was triggered in March 2017 – mean Britain will exit the EU automatically in March next year with or without a final deal.

MPs could reject the EU Withdrawal Agreement, the report said, and could even force May to head back to Brussels to try and renegotiate a better deal. But under that scenario, the UK would still risk crashing out without a deal on March 29, 2019 unless it sought an extension to Article 50.

“The terms of Article 50 mean that, without an extension of Article 50 negotiations by the UK and the EU27, the UK is due to exit the EU on 29 March 2019 with or without an agreement,” said the cross-party committee of MPs.

It urged the government to consider seeking a “limited extension” to Article 50 if the UK fails to reach its objective of negotiating “substantive aspects” of the future UK-EU relationship as part of the final Brexit deal, although noted the EU may simply reject such a request.

“A limited extension to Article 50 may […] be required to prevent the UK leaving the EU on 29 March 2019 without an agreement in the event that parliamentary consent to the Withdrawal Agreement is delayed by either side of the negotiations, although it is by no means certain that the EU would respond positively to such a request,” it said.

Labour MP Hillary Benn, chair of the Brexit select committee, echoed warnings from business leaders and manufacturers this week that the UK is running out of time to secure a deal.

“Time is not on our side,” he said.

“The Bank of England is now adding to calls from business and unions for ‘pace and urgency’ in the Brexit negotiations, saying ‘material risks’ remain. This follows public warnings about the implications of a hard Brexit from firms such as Airbus and BMW.

“While the Cabinet continues to run down the clock as it tries to agree on a plan, it would be unconscionable if the House of Commons was not provided with the time and opportunity both for the fullest debate and to enable a clear expression of its opinion on the most significant decision our country has faced in a generation.”

Theresa May will meet her EU counterparts at the European Council summit in Brussels today, but a lack of progress on key issues such as the Irish border means Brexit has been booted down the agenda, with October looking like a more realistic date for the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement.

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