The British government has insisted that a full ‘no deal’ Brexit where the United Kingdom actually leaves the European Union is still on the table, despite clear messages from the Prime Minister and other senior figures that indicate otherwise, hours after another Commons defeat inflicted by a group of Brexiteer rebel Conservatives.
Early in the two-year Brexit negotiation process inflicted on the country in preference to simply leaving the European Union in 2016 or 2017, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, a reassuring message to pro-Brexit Conservatives and Brexit voters that if the negotiation failed, the UK would still leave the EU in March 2019.
Yet the willingness to walk away from negotiations and leave anyway — a key trump card in the British negotiator’s hand — appears to have been run down if not abandoned by the Prime Minister, who now puts a clear emphasis on Britain leaving with a deal as an absolute priority.
No. We won’t. We are not leaving without a deal. If you want to leave, you’d better agree one. In the next fortnight would help. https://t.co/c10w17TPCd
— Alistair Burt (@AlistairBurtUK) February 15, 2019
The impression that no-deal is now not an option for a government has been reinforced by several senior figures, including Theresa May’s top Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins, who was overheard loudly saying in a hotel bar that Brexit wouldn’t happen if politicians didn’t back the PM’s deal, and several cabinet members both in public and private. On Friday morning Minister of State for the Foreign Office Alistair Burt was astonishingly clear when he slapped down Brexit minister Steve Barclay, writing: “No. We won’t. We are not leaving without a deal.”
These concerns, compounded by the wording of Thursday evening’s Brexit vote which Brexit-supporting members of the European Research Group said would effectively kill off ‘no deal’ as an option, apparently boiled over with the government being defeated 258-to-303 votes in the chamber.
BREAKING: Corbyn Amendment 306 – 322 fails, British Parliament Again Votes on Brexit Amendments, 43 Days Until UK Leaves EU https://t.co/urmAWoJ50j
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) February 14, 2019
The ERG’s refusal to back the government at this point, having done so just weeks before in another similar motion which didn’t include the perceived threat to Brexit has led to an outpouring of scorn from May loyalist, and pro-EU Members of Parliament. The Daily Telegraph reports the ERG has been criticised as a “party within a party”, a “drag anchor”, and that its members should leave the Conservatives altogether and defect to Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party.
Downing Street complained in the hours after that the rebellion had pushed the country closer to a no-deal Brexit, apparently without irony as that was exactly what many Brexiteers — including members of the ERG — want to achieve.
Downing Street Insists No-Deal Remains a Brexit Option, Despite Claims https://t.co/ddYMxvUeeR
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) February 13, 2019
Apparently offering an olive branch to Tory rebels Friday, Cabinet Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom took to BBC radio on behalf of the Prime Minister to insist that “of course” the government was keeping no-deal on the table, remarking “Essentially that is what will happen if we don’t vote for a deal… The government does not want no-deal. It is there because that is the legal default position. And any competent government must prepare for all eventualities.”