UK MPs try to force May to seek further Brexit delay

A group of British MPs wants to pass a law to prevent Britain from leaving the European Union without a deal.

    Parliament and the government remain divided over the terms of the UK's exit from the EU [Isabel Infantes/AFP]
    Parliament and the government remain divided over the terms of the UK's exit from the EU [Isabel Infantes/AFP]

    A group of members of British Parliament has said they will try to pass a law that would force Prime Minister Theresa May to seek a delay to the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union.

    The move, announced on Tuesday, is intended to prevent a potentially chaotic no-deal exit on April 12, following a third parliamentary defeat for May's Brexit divorce deal. 

    Leaving the EU without a deal is the default legal option if the UK cannot present another viable alternative to EU leaders, who are set to hold an emergency Brexit summit on April 10.

    "We are now in a really dangerous situation with a serious and growing risk of no-deal in 10 days' time," opposition Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who presented the bill, said on Tuesday.

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    "There's been too much brinkmanship going on, everyone's leaving it to the final hours in the hope that somebody blinks first. The prime minister has a responsibility to prevent that [a no-deal exit] happening ...If the government won't act urgently, then parliament has a responsibility to try to ensure that happens even though we are right up against the deadline."

    Cooper has proposed the legislation alongside 11 other MPs from several political parties, including members of May's Conservative Party

    Al Jazeera's Paul Brennan, reporting from Westminster, London, said the cross-party attempt to put a one-clause legislative bill before parliament would likely be debated this week.

    "The expectation is, procedurally, that the bill would be debated on Wednesday, hopefully cleared by Thursday [by] the lower house and then go to the [House of] Lords for further consideration, but the timetable is extremely tight," he said. 

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    "Essentially it uses the way that the MPs have taken control back from the government and put it in parliament, it uses that process to carve out a window of opportunity to put this bill up for debate, which would force the prime minister to apply for an extension of Article 50.

    "There is a real sense of almost panic here in parliament that the only alternative that is coming through as a default position is no deal and that's something that nobody here wants - in fact the MPs have already voted that they don't want that to happen," Brennan said. 

    EU cannot be 'held hostage'

    The other 27 EU member states would have to agree to any further delay to the negotiating period and have said the UK would need to provide a suitable reason.

    The UK government is eager to avoid any extension that would see the country participating in the European Parliamentary elections in May.

    Speaking in Brussels, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said a no deal scenario is becoming more probable each day. 

    "No deal was never our design or intended scenario, no deal was never my intended design or scenario, but the EU 27 is now prepared," he said. 

    French President Macron, right, addressed Brexit before a meeting with Irish leader Leo Varadkar [Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

    French President Emmanuel Macron has urged the UK to come up with a plan before the summit in Brussels next week.

    Speaking on Tuesday before talks with Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar, Macron said the UK would only have itself to blame for a no-deal scenario.

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    "If the United Kingdom is not capable, almost three years after the referendum, of coming forward with a solution that is supported by a majority, it will have effectively chosen a no-deal exit on its own," Macron said, adding that whether an alternative plan involved a snap election, a referendum or a customs union was for Britain to decide.

    "It's up for London to say it, and to say it now ... The EU cannot be held hostage to the resolution of a political crisis in the United Kingdom on a long-term basis."

    The action from MPs comes as May is holding crisis talks with her cabinet in a bid to break the Brexit deadlock.

    Al Jazeera's Neave Barker - reporting from outside 10 Downing Street, May's official residence - said senior ministers had been in talks for almost seven hours. 

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    "What we're hearing is that the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has hinted that the only way that will be allowed to happen is if it is significantly different from the last time." 

    Monday's rejection of May's deal has left the government with a range of unpalatable choices. It can gamble on a fourth attempt to push May's unloved deal through Parliament, let Britain tumble out of the bloc without a deal, or roll the dice by opting for a snap election to shake up parliament.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies