May opens door to vote on no-deal Brexit, 'short' delay
'She seems to be giving us a date for a new cliff edge,' says remainer Kenneth Clarke
British Prime Minister Theresa May offered lawmakers Tuesday the chance to vote in just over two weeks on whether to delay Brexit or go for a potentially disorderly no-deal exit from the European Union if her attempt to ratify a divorce deal fails.
Opening up the possibility of taking a no-deal scenario off the table marks one of the biggest turning points in the United Kingdom's labyrinthine Brexit crisis since the shock 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.
In a move that pushes back the Brexit deadline by three months to the end of June, May announced she would give the lawmakers two votes on March 13 and 14 if she failed to get a deal approved by March 12.
The government would allow a vote on March 13 at the latest asking whether lawmakers supported leaving without a deal. If they rejected such an option, on March 14 they would vote on a "short, limited extension" Brexit delay.
"The United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on March 29 if there is explicit consent in the House for that outcome," May said, though she was clear that the British government was not removing the ultimate threat of a no-deal Brexit.
"An extension cannot take no deal off the table," May said. "The only way to do that is to revoke Article 50, which I shall not do, or agree a deal."
'Plot to stop Brexit altogether'
May said any extension, not beyond the end of June, would almost certainly have to be a one-off and that her government must honour the decision to leave the EU because the credibility of British democracy was at stake.
"She seems to be giving us a date for a new cliff edge," said veteran pro-EU Conservative lawmaker Kenneth Clarke.
A delay would increase the chances of a reversal of Brexit, especially as the opposition Labour Party is tilting towards supporting another referendum.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading Brexit-supporting lawmaker in May's party, said it would be a "grievous error" if May's offer to delay leads to Brexit being thwarted.
"If it's being delayed, which is my suspicion, as a plot to stop Brexit altogether, then I think that would be the most grievous error that politicians could commit," he said.
Another Brexit supporter in May's party, Andrew Bridgen, said taking no-deal off the table would remove any pressure on the EU to do a deal and that it was unclear how the government would vote if it failed to get a deal approved.
Both of Britain's main parties are under intense pressure to change course on Brexit and both are deeply divided, but both are also officially committed to implementing Brexit.
Running down the clock
Opposition Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn said Tuesday that even if May gets her Brexit deal approved by Parliament, it should be put to a "confirmatory" public vote.
"The prime minister's botched deal provides no certainty or guarantees for the future and was comprehensively rejected by this House," Corbyn told MPs on Tuesday.
Corbyn said May was running down the clock in a "grotesquely reckless" way. "This is not dithering. It's a deliberate strategy to run down the clock."
But the tilt toward another referendum raises problems for Labour — many of its traditional voters supported leaving the EU.
The 2016 referendum, in which 17.4 million voters backed leaving and 16.1 million supported staying, showed a country divided about much more than the EU, and has fuelled soul searching about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism and modern British identity.
The crisis has left allies and investors puzzled by a country that was for decades touted as a confident pillar of Western economic and political stability.