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Brexit 'game of chicken' played before crucial week for votes

Jan 27 2019 20:00
Brian Swint, Bloomberg

Battle lines are hardening as Prime Minister Theresa May faces votes in Parliament this week on amendments to her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The government is opposing moves by rank-and-file politicians to force a delay in the March exit date rather than crash out of the European Union without an agreement.

Yet opposition Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper, who has proposed an amendment to postpone the departure, said it’s the only appropriate course of action. Votes on amendments are planned Tuesday.

“You can’t just carry on with a kind of game of chicken,” she said Sunday on the BBC.

“Someone has to take some responsibility and say, if the prime minister runs out of time she may need some more time, and that is not about blocking Brexit. That is about being responsible.”

However, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has yet to back Cooper’s amendment and has tabled his own, demanding a vote on either staying in a customs union with the EU or holding a second referendum. Labour lawmaker Angela Rayner told Sky News on Sunday that Labour should do whatever it takes to stop a no-deal scenario.

Major Disruptions

The UK is to leave the European Union on March 29, and after lawmakers overwhelming rejected the agreement May negotiated earlier, the concern is that exiting without a deal will cause major disruptions, economic hardship and a return to violence in Northern Ireland.

May’s lieutenants said on Sunday that concerns about leaving without a deal are overblown, since no one wants that to happen, while at the same time arguing that it’s important the option remains possible so that an agreement can be reached.

If you want to avoid no deal, “then it’s incumbent on you to vote for the deal that’s on the table,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on the BBC. He also said that delaying Brexit, as proposed by Cooper’s measure, doesn’t end the impasse.

There’s still common ground to be found among lawmakers to get May’s deal passed, Education Secretary Damian Hinds told Sky News. He also rejected extending the departure date or holding a second referendum.

Irish Backstop

The biggest obstacle in May’s deal for Brexit supporters is the requirement that the UK stay close to the EU to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Some lawmakers, including Conservative Andrea Jenkyns on Sunday, have suggested scrapping the so-called backstop altogether to get the deal through.

Ireland, though, has made it clear it will insist on the backstop to ensure there’s no return to violence between the north and the republic. Neither the EU nor Ireland would accept an escape clause from the backstop or set a time limit, Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said on the BBC.

None of the backstop’s opponents have presented a “pragmatic, sensible and legally sound” alternative, Coveney told the BBC. “There is no magic solution for this problem. If there were it would have emerged by now.”



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