British Prime Minister Theresa May presented her Plan B for leaving the European Union on Tuesday morning, but offered little hope that the UK’s chaotic Brexit could be steered back on course.
In an alternative Brexit plan that looked eerily similar to her original proposal that was roundly defeated in Parliament last week, Ms May is staking the future of her deal on securing concessions from the EU to a contentious Irish border measure.
Europe, meanwhile, has given no indication it is willing to budge on its previously agreed Brexit proposal, with one senior EU minister likening Britain’s unedifying departure to a Shakespearian tragedy.
With little time left until the UK is due to leave the EU on March 29, there is no agreement in London on how and even whether it should leave the world’s biggest trading bloc, and a growing chance of a dramatic “no-deal” Brexit with no provisions to soften the economic shock.
After her Brexit divorce deal with Brussels was humiliatingly rejected by MPs last Tuesday, Ms May has been searching for a way to get a deal through.
She told Parliament she could not take a “no-deal” Brexit off the table as there was no approved alternative yet, and that the EU would be unlikely to postpone Britain’s exit date – determined by the Article 50 withdrawal notice – without an exit plan.
“No-deal will only be taken off the table by either revoking Article 50, which turns back the results of the referendum – the government will not do that – or by having a deal, and that is what we are trying to work out,” Ms May said.
She said another referendum would strengthen the hand of those seeking to break up the UK and could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in democracy.
Ms May vowed to be “more flexible” with MPs in trying to agree changes to the Northern Irish backstop.
“I will then take the conclusions of those discussions back to the EU,” she said.
“My focus continues to be on what is needed to secure the support of this House in favour of a Brexit deal with the EU.”
Hardline supporters of Brexit in Ms May’s Conservative Party object above all to the fact that Britain cannot unilaterally end the backstop, which would keep it in a customs union with the EU until an alternative way of ensuring an open border is found. Brussels says this provision is non-negotiable.
The EU says it wants an orderly exit, but senior officials have expressed frustration and sorrow at London’s deepening crisis.
German Europe Minister Michael Roth said on Monday that even William Shakespeare would not have been able to think up a Brexit tragedy of such drama.
Some MPs are planning to wrest control of the process from the government.
Ms May was forced to deny a report by the Daily Telegraph that she was considering amending the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. An open border with Ireland is widely seen as crucial to maintaining this peace.
Once the motion on Ms May’s proposals is published, MPs will be able to suggest amendments with alternative proposals.
The Prime Minister chided Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn for not taking part in cross-party talks, but he said Ms May was in denial about the failure of her deal.
“Her current deal is undeliverable,” he said.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of anti-EU MPs in Ms May’s party, said Britain was most likely to leave without a deal.
But if the backstop were scrapped, he said most of the opposition from eurosceptics in Ms May’s party would be removed.