British lawmakers' bid to stop no-deal Brexit gathers momentum

An attempt by British lawmakers to prevent a no-deal Brexit is gaining momentum after the Opposition Labour Party said it was highly likely to throw its parliamentary weight behind the bid.

If passed, Cooper amendment could delay Britain's exit from the EU by 9 months

British Prime Minister Theresa May has been struggling to win support for her plans for Brexit as a March 29 deadline approaches. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

An attempt by British lawmakers to prevent a no-deal Brexit is gaining momentum after the Opposition Labour Party said it was highly likely to throw its parliamentary weight behind the bid.

The United Kingdom, in the deepest political crisis since the Second World War, is due according to law to leave the European Union on March 29, yet has no approved deal on how the divorce will take place.

Prime Minister Theresa May is battling to break the deadlock after last week's crushing defeat of her two-year attempt to forge an orderly divorce raised the prospect of an exit without a deal.

In a step that could overturn centuries of constitutional convention, some lawmakers are trying to grab control of Brexit from the government in an attempt to prevent what they say would be an economically disastrous no-deal departure.

The Labour Party looks set to back one such attempt, an amendment proposed by Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper that could result in May being given until Feb. 26 to get a deal approved by Parliament or face a parliamentary vote on delaying Brexit.

John McDonnell, the second most powerful figure in the party, told the BBC the amendment was sensible and Labour was "highly likely" to back it. At least nine Conservative lawmakers have also publicly said they will support it, suggesting it has a good chance of passing.

As the United Kingdom's tortuous 2½-year crisis over EU membership approaches its finale, the possible outcomes for the world's fifth largest economy still include a no-deal Brexit, a last-minute deal, a delay or a snap election.

Key vote next week

But the EU, whose members are also worried by the prospect of a disorderly Brexit that would cost jobs in major economies such as Germany, cautioned that no-deal was still the default scenario until London proposed something else.

"Preparing for a no-deal scenario is more important now than ever, even though I still hope that we can avoid this scenario," EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told a gathering of employers and labour organizations in Brussels.

"Opposing no deal will not stop no deal from happening," he said, adding it would be necessary for the British to find a majority in favour of another solution to a disorderly exit.

The gravity of the situation lies in the fact that London is silent.- EU diplomat

Europe's most powerful leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said she wanted an orderly Brexit but that it was in London's hands.

May has said thwarting Brexit would threaten social cohesion because it would undermine faith in British democracy, while police have said the "febrile" atmosphere could be exploited by far-right extremists.

Parliament will vote on Jan. 29 on different options put forward by lawmakers, potentially opening a way out of the stalemate.

'Decision remains the same'

A Labour spokesperson said the party would "look at all mechanisms to take no deal off the table and to give Parliament more of a say in this process" and that leader Jeremy Corbyn was meeting Cooper on Wednesday to discuss the proposed amendment.

If the Cooper amendment is passed, it would effectively give Parliament the power to set May a deadline of Feb. 26 to get a deal through Parliament.

If May fails, Parliament would be given a vote on asking the EU for a postponement of the Article 50 deadline to prevent Britain leaving without a deal on March 29. It proposes a nine-month extension, to Dec. 31.

Another alternative is that May gets enough concessions from the EU to win over rebels in her Conservative Party as well as the Northern Irish party that props up her minority government.

May told Parliament the move would not solve the issue of the impasse in Parliament over the way forward.

"What we have seen is amendments seeking to engineer a situation where Article 50 is extended — that does not solve the issue. There will always be a point of decision. The decision remains the same: no deal, a deal or no Brexit."

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