The European Union will not grant Britain another short delay to Brexit if MPs fail to ratify the stalled divorce agreement by April 12, the head of the bloc’s executive European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said.
Juncker spoke after British Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Tuesday evening that she would request a second Brexit delay beyond the current cliff-edge date of April 12.
May is seeking to agree a deal with the main opposition Labour Party that would unlock ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement she negotiated with Brussels, which the British lower house of parliament has rejected three times.
“The best way forward is the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement,” Juncker told the European Parliament.
“The 12th of April is the ultimate deadline for approval of the Withdrawal Agreement by the House of Commons.”
“If it has not done so by then, no further short extension will be possible.”
“A ‘no-deal’ at midnight on the 12th of April is now a very likely scenario. It is not the outcome I want. But it is an outcome for which I have made sure the EU is ready,” he said.
He said the bloc was ready to upgrade a proposed blueprint for new EU-UK relations after Brexit from the one already negotiated by May. Labour has said it wants a customs union in the future.
Juncker reiterated that Britain would not get a transition period after Brexit without ratifying the exit deal: “UK will be affected more than EU because there is no such thing as a ‘managed’ or ‘negotiated no-deal’ and there is no such thing as a ‘no-deal transition’.”
“I will work until the last moment to avoid a ‘no-deal’ outcome,” he added.
But he also made clear that the EU would set firm conditions for restarting talks with Britain on new trade ties should the worst-case scenario materialise.
The bloc would make such talks conditional on the UK honouring its EU financial obligations, guaranteeing citizens’ rights and agreeing on how to run the sensitive Irish border — a key reason for UK lawmakers’ rejection of May’s deal.
Separately Bank of England governor Mark Carney has warned that the risk of Parliament stumbling into a “disorderly” no-deal Brexit is now “alarmingly high”.
Mr Carney said that “real progress” had been made in preparing the UK for the prospect of leaving without a deal, which is currently the default option on April 12, but it would still result in “lots of things to worry about”.
The Bank’s chief also took aim at the “absolute nonsense” suggestions from some Brexiteers that a no-deal departure could be managed using international trade rules to maintain tariff-free commerce.
Theresa May met with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and others today to try to find a consensus over Britain’s future relationship with the EU to win support for her divorce deal, which has been rejected by parliament three times.
The Labour leader described the talks as “useful but inconclusive” and said “there has not been as much change as I expected”.
The meeting sparked fury among some Conservatives, with two ministers quitting Mrs May’s Government and a string of backbenchers voicing their anger during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.
Following the meeting in the PM’s Commons office, a Labour spokesman said: “We have had constructive exploratory discussions about how to break the Brexit deadlock.
“We have agreed a programme of work between our teams to explore the scope for agreement.”
And Downing Street said: “Today’s talks were constructive, with both sides showing flexibility and a commitment to bring the current Brexit uncertainty to a close.
“We have agreed a programme of work to ensure we deliver for the British people, protecting jobs and security.”
It is understood that a planning meeting was taking place in Parliament later on Wednesday ahead of intensive technical discussions by negotiating teams on Thursday.
Mrs May has said she hopes to find a solution which both leaders can support, or failing that, a system of indicative votes which both will recognise as binding.
Meanwhile Britain’s House of Commons rejected a plan to hold more indicative votes on Brexit on Monday.
MPs were tied on the amendment, voting 310-310 but Speaker John Bercow voted against in accordance with the conventions of the House.
“In accordance with precedent and on in the principle that important decisions should not be taken except by a majority, I cast my votes with the noes. So the noes have it,” Bercow said.