UK lawmakers seek to stop no-deal Brexit as EU warnings grow

By JILL LAWLESS and RAF CASERT and RENEE GRAHAM – Associated Press – Wednesday, March 13, 2019

DEAL, England (AP) – The people of Deal would like a Brexit deal. Above all, they want Britain’s divided politicians to make a decision.

This seaside town facing across the Channel voted strongly to leave the in Britain’s 2016 referendum. Almost three years later, residents of Deal, the rest of the U.K. and the woke up Wednesday to political crisis and warnings of economic chaos if Britain crashes out of the bloc on March 29 without a withdrawal agreement to smooth the way.

“Potentially it is going to be a nightmare,” said Michael Eddy, a district councilor who lives in Deal, a few miles from England’s main Channel port of Dover.

He says local authorities have modeled potential disruptions and believe that “a two-minute delay for every truck going through the ” would lead to a 50-mile (80-kilometer) traffic jam.

“What then happens with local people wanting to go about their business, wanting to get to hospitals, wanting to get their kids to school, all of that kind of stuff?” he said.

Residents, businesses and politicians across Britain and the were bracing for a chaotic, cliff-edge Brexit after British lawmakers rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit agreement for a second time on Tuesday by a decisive 391-242 vote.

Parliament will vote later Wednesday on whether to rule out leaving the on March 29 without a deal.

Britain’s Parliament is trying to seize control of Brexit from the government, though it’s far from clear if lawmakers can agree on a way forward. There are competing factions supporting May’s deal, or a softer deal that would keep close ties with the , or a no-deal Brexit or even a new referendum on Britain’s membership.

Still, a vote Wednesday to avoid a disorderly Brexit won’t eliminate the risk of it happening. By law, Britain will leave the on March 29, with or without a deal, unless it cancels Brexit or secures a delay from the .

Top officials, meanwhile, warned that the prospect of no deal could not be eliminated unless the U.K. Parliament approved some type of exit deal.

“The risk of a no-deal has never been higher,” chief negotiator Michel Barnier said.

“I urge you please not to underestimate the risk or its consequences,” he told European lawmakers in Strasbourg, .

Both Britain and the have ramped up planning for a no-deal Brexit, which would rip up decades of rules for travel and trade between Britain and the . Economists say it could cause huge upheaval, with customs checks causing gridlock at U.K. ports, new tariffs triggering sudden price hikes and red tape for everyone from truckers to tourists.

On Wednesday, the U.K. government announced its plans for the Irish border in the event of a no-deal Brexit, saying it wouldn’t impose new checks, duties or controls on goods coming from member Ireland into Northern Ireland. It also said it wouldn’t slap tariffs on 87 percent of goods coming into Britain from the – though there would be new levies on imports of some items including meat and cars.

The tariffs, intended to be temporary, wouldn’t apply to goods crossing from Ireland to Northern Ireland, raising fears the plan would spark a rise in smuggling across that border.

U.K. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told the the government was well prepared but “no-deal is going to be very disruptive for the economy.”

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said the no-deal arrangements would be “a sledgehammer for our economy.”

A weakened May, her authority shredded by successive Brexit defeats in Parliament, said her Conservative lawmakers could vote Wednesday night according to their conscience, rather than having to follow a party line.

If a no-deal Brexit is ruled out, Parliament will vote Thursday on whether to ask the to delay Britain’s departure.

“The government needs to seek an extension of (Brexit-triggering) Article 50 so that we can have a bit more time to sort things out because, to be honest, we are in such a mess,” opposition Labour Party lawmaker Yvette Cooper said.

The – openly exasperated by Britain’s continuing Brexit crisis – warned that Britain would need to present a strong reason for any extension.

“I am against every extension – whether an extension of one day, one week, even 24 hours – if it’s not based on a clear opinion of the House of Commons for something,” said the European Parliament’s chief Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt. “Please make up your minds in London, because this uncertainty cannot continue.”

The European Parliament approved measures Wednesday to ameliorate the immediate hardships of a no-deal Brexit. It backed emergency measures designed to provide some continuity for everything from air, port and road traffic to foreign students to the fishing industry.

The U.K. Parliament has now twice rejected the withdrawal agreement that May spent the best part of two years negotiating with the , and the bloc insists there will be no more talks. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued a warning to British lawmakers.

“Whoever rejects the (Brexit) agreement plays with the welfare of their citizens and the economy in a reckless way,” he said.

Yet May – clinging to power by a thread – has not given up on a third attempt to get her deal through Parliament again.

“I am confident that we will do a deal,” Treasury chief Philip Hammond said Wednesday.

Many Britons wish they could share Hammond’s optimism.

“I think that a bit of unity would be helpful now,” said Katharine Beaugie, an artist in . “It would be much better if we could have found some sort of decision.”

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Jill Lawless reported from London and Raf Casert from Strasbourg, . Danica Kirka in London, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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