No-deal Brexit ‘looks closer than ever’

Coveney downbeat after May’s revised plan defeated in Commons

No-deal Brexit ‘looks closer than ever’

Coveney downbeat after May’s revised plan defeated in Commons Political Editor A disorderly Brexit is now “closer” than ever after British prime minister Theresa May suffered a second humiliating defeat over her revised Brexit plan, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

Ms May saw some of her MPs drop their opposition from January and opt to vote in favour, but not enough to prevent the deal being defeated in the House of Commons by 391 votes to 242, a majority 149. So weak has Ms May’s position become, she has been forced to allow a free vote today when MPs will decide whether they wish to leave the EU without a deal on March 29.

In Dublin, Mr Coveney struck a downbeat note saying a no-deal Brexit “looks closer now than it did only a few hours ago”.

“The focus has to be on London, that is where the crisis is, that is where the problem is, and that’s where the solutions have to come from. We here in Dublin will continue to plan for a no-deal Brexit, which of course looks closer now than it did a few hours ago. But we have a huge amount of work done.”

He said contingency plans here in Ireland for a no-deal are intensifying given the defeat in Westminster. Mr Coveney’s comments were echoed by EU leaders in Brussels. The Commons’ second rejection of the EU-UK Brexit deal has “significantly increased” the risk of a damaging no-deal divorce, said a spokesman for European Council president Donald Tusk.

“We regret the outcome of tonight’s vote,” said the spokesman. “On the EU side, we have done all that is possible to reach an agreement... it is difficult to see what more we can do,” he said.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, responded to the result by saying: “The EU has done everything it can to help get the withdrawal agreement over the line. The impasse can only be solved in the UK.”

Mr Barnier highlighted the need for the EU-wide contingency plans for a disorderly Brexit.

“Our no-deal preparations are now more important than ever before,” he said.

Ms May’s revised Brexit deal, agreed in Strasbourg on Monday, was doomed once her attorney general Geoffrey Cox said the legal risk “remains unchanged” from the original withdrawal agreement, despite the new additional concessions.

Mr Cox told MPs that the changes “reduce the risk” that the UK could be trapped indefinitely in the backstop, but do not remove it altogether. Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said Mr Cox had confirmed that “no significant changes” had been secured in two months of negotiations and the government’s strategy was “in tatters”.

Shortly after, the DUP and leading hardline Brexiteer Tory MPs were quick to signal their intention to vote against the motion. DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said: “Our position is simple. The best way to get a deal you can actually vote for is to keep the threat of a no-deal on the table. “Once you take that threat off you are bound to be offered terms which are less advantageous."

Ultimately, some 75 Leave and Remain Conservative MPs united to rebel and condemn Ms May’s Brexit deal to another major defeat.

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