May Heads to Brussels as Lawmakers Move to Block No-Deal Brexit


U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will travel to Brussels on Monday to personally intervene in deadlocked exit negotiations with the European Union, a day after details emerged of cross-party talks to prevent her from leaving the bloc without an agreement.

May, who also called German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday, will meet over dinner with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and chief negotiator Michel Barnier ahead of Thursday’s European Summit. The latest round of talks hit an impasse last week over how much the U.K. will pay when it leaves. Both sides raised the prospect of Britain crashing out without a deal.

Lawmakers in the House of Commons are working across the political divide to block that from happening, said John McDonnell, finance spokesman for the main opposition Labour Party.

“I don’t think there’s a majority in Parliament for no deal,” McDonnell said on BBC TV’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. “On a cross-party basis, you will see in the debates in the coming weeks, the government will get the message: there will be a deal.”

Ministers have repeatedly said it would be better for the U.K. to quit the bloc with no agreement on its future trading relationship than to settle for a bad deal. Some hardliners in May’s Conservative Party actively favor such an outcome, even as businesses say it would be catastrophic. As things stand, Britain will automatically tumble out of the bloc in 2019, with or without a deal.

Read more: As Brexit Clock Ticks Down, Access to Medicines Seen at Risk

The prime minister said last week that contingency plans are being drawn up, although Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the expectation is that, even after last week’s deadlock, an accord can be reached.

The talks, which are being led by Brexit Secretary David Davis, are “where I would have expected them to be” at this stage, Grayling told the BBC. “Nobody ever thought we were going to have negotiations that would last half an hour.”

May and Merkel agreed on “the importance of continued constructive progress,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement after their Sunday morning call.

The discussion came after Germany’s representatives at the EU joined with the French to tone down a draft declaration on Brexit prepared for this week’s summit, which they said was too positive. They wanted it to make clear that serious issues remain unresolved, and that moving on to trade talks isn’t a forgone conclusion, according to an official familiar with the discussions.

A new draft is scheduled to be circulated on Monday as EU leaders seek to preserve agreement among the bloc’s 27 other members, in the face of British attempts to break their unity.

Boris’s Efforts

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who’s overseen a charm offensive to win over some of the EU’s smaller states, met with his counterparts from eight former communist countries at his official country residence on Sunday to emphasize Britain’s commitment to their security after Brexit.

As talks in Brussels stumble, the government’s efforts to drive through Parliament its key legislation on pulling the U.K. out of the bloc have also been held up, with more than 300 amendments already proposed by lawmakers. 

Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, told the BBC’s “Sunday Politics” show that “there’s no way we would vote for no deal. That would be catastrophic.”

Starmer said he’s in regular contact with Barnier and with officials from other EU countries. “I’ve met Michel Barnier a number of times and his team,” he told ITV’s “Peston on Sunday” show. “Some of those meetings have been facilitated by David Davis, and so none of this is intended to undermine his position. It’s to make sure that we, the opposition, are fully informed and that we can influence.”

Grayling played down the prospect that a no-deal Brexit would harm the economy, even potentially halting flights to Europe and hampering food imports from EU countries.

‘Carry On Booking’

“People will be able to carry on booking their holidays,” Grayling said. “Does anybody seriously think the Spanish government, which would see hotel bookings collapse in 2019, is going to intervene to stop the planes flying? Of course they’re not.”

Asked what a no-deal Brexit would do to food prices, the transport secretary said Belgian and French farmers would suffer. “What we will do is grow more here, and we’ll buy more from around the world,” Grayling said. “But of course that will mean bad news for continental farmers, and that’s why it won’t happen. Because it’s actually in their interest to reach a deal.”

Grayling also defended Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, whose dismissal has been called for by some pro-Brexit Tories. Last week, Hammond was accused by one of his predecessors, Nigel Lawson, who held the position in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher, of sabotaging the Brexit process.

“In a month’s time, the chancellor is going to deliver a very important budget for this country, and I’m working with him and we’re all behind him in delivering that,” Grayling said.

Nicky Morgan, a former Conservative minister who now heads the House of Commons Treasury Committee, told ITV that “the majority of MPs in the parliamentary party do not want Philip Hammond to be sacked.”

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