The Latest: UK lawmakers vote to avert ‘no-deal’ Brexit
LONDON (AP) — The Latest on Britain’s departure from the European Union (all times local):
Britain’s House of Commons has by the narrowest of margins approved a bill designed to guarantee that the country can’t leave the European Union without a withdrawal agreement.
The U.K. has just nine days, until April 12, to approve a divorce deal, come up with a new plan or crash out of the 28-nation bloc without a deal, causing huge disruption for people and businesses in Britain and the EU.
Lawmakers approved by 313-312 a bill that requires Prime Minister Theresa May to ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit deadline if Britain is on the verge of a no-deal exit.
The bill still needs approval from the unelected House of Lords, which is likely.
The law does not compel the EU to agree to a delay.
Bank of England governor Mark Carney says the risk of Britain accidentally crashing out of the European Union without a divorce agreement is “alarmingly high” and it’s “absolute nonsense” to suggest such a situation could be managed.
Speaking to British broadcaster Sky News on Wednesday, Carney said that even though Prime Minister Theresa May, Parliament and the European Union all have the stated goal of avoiding a no-deal Brexit, the U.K. leaving without an agreement remains the default position by law.
He says that makes it possible “no-deal would happen by accident. It would happen suddenly. There would be no transition. It is an accidental disorderly Brexit.”
Carney also said Brexit has been stressful and he “absolutely” won’t extend his term as governor of the central bank past January 2020.
British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn says his Brexit talks with Prime Minister Theresa May were “useful but inconclusive.”
The Labour Party leader met with May on Wednesday to try to find a compromise deal for leaving the European Union that can break Britain’s Brexit deadlock.
Both the government and Labour called the talks “constructive,” and said teams from the two sides would hold more detailed discussions Thursday.
Corbyn said “there hasn’t been as much change as I expected, but we are continuing to have some discussions tomorrow morning to explore some of the technical issues.”
Britain has until April 12 to pass a Brexit withdrawal deal, seek a Brexit delay from the EU or crash out of the bloc without a divorce agreement.
A Brexit-related vote in Britain’s House of Commons has ended in a tie, the first time that has happened in a quarter-century.
In an illustration of politicians’ deadlock over Britain’s exit from the European Union, Wednesday’s vote ended in a 310-310 draw.
Under Parliament’s rules, the speaker of the House has tie-breaking power. Speaker John Bercow cast his vote with the noes. He said that was in keeping with the principle that “it is not for the chair to create a majority that otherwise doesn’t exist.”
The result means lawmakers have rejected the idea of holding a third day of voting on alternative Brexit options Monday.
Bercow says the last time a vote in the Commons ended in a tie was in 1993.
Another minister has quit British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government over her decision to seek a Brexit compromise with the opposition.
Chris Heaton-Harris, a junior Brexit minister, said Wednesday that May “should have honored the result of the 2016 referendum” to leave the European Union and withdrawn as planned on March 29.
The EU extended that long-scheduled date to April 12 at May’s request, and the prime minister says she plans to ask for even more time.
Heaton-Harris published his resignation letter to May saying “every time we seek an extension to this process we diminish faith in our political system.”
Another junior minister, Nigel Adams, resigned earlier Wednesday over May’s handling of Brexit.
May announced Tuesday that she would seek a compromise with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, after Parliament rejected her EU divorce deal three times.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is underlining her pledge to work “until the last hour” to secure an orderly Brexit but says it is primarily up to Britain to come up with solutions.
Merkel said Wednesday averting a chaotic Brexit is “in the interest of Britain but, above all, also in our own interest.” She plans to visit Ireland on Thursday to discuss among other things that country’s border with the U.K.’s Northern Ireland, one of the most complicated issues in Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Merkel said after meeting regional officials in eastern Germany: “These solutions have to be reached above all in Britain itself, of course ... you can see that there are really intensive efforts, but you can also see that there are simply very diverse ideas.”
The European parliament’s top Brexit official says despite the chaos in British politics, the U.K. has given the continent one great thing: an amazing TV show.
Guy Verhofstadt compared the live transmission of the often raucous debates on Brexit in the House of Commons to Premier League soccer — one of the biggest British products the U.K. is transmitting to the continent.
He says the Brexit debate sessions “have become more popular even than the matches in the Premier League in Europe.” He went on with the metaphor, saying “the only difference is that it is always a draw there in the House of Commons,” referring to the repeated stalemates over Brexit that have paralyzed British politics.
Verhofstadt was hopeful that talks Wednesday between British Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn would finally yield a breakthrough.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says he doesn’t yet see a reason to grant Britain another delay to its withdrawal from the European Union, but is welcoming British Prime Minister Theresa May’s efforts to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
Britain has either to leave the EU April 12 or propose an alternative course of action, and all 27 other EU countries would have to sign off on a further delay to Brexit. In Vienna Wednesday, Kurz stressed the importance of avoiding a no-deal Brexit but noted nothing has actually changed yet.
Kurz said: “There is, at present, no reason at all for an extension because the chaos in Britain hasn’t changed. There is no plan B that has a majority in Britain’s lower house, so speculation about an extension would at the moment be pure speculation.”
Kurz added that he hopes the situation will change. He said: “Let’s keep our fingers crossed for Theresa May in her efforts.”
The European Union’s top economy official is warning of long lines at borders and paperwork headaches for obligatory customs checks if Britain crashes out of the bloc without an agreement.
EU Economy Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said Wednesday that Britain would become a third country overnight, creating “instantaneous and very radical legal change.”
He says that around 11,000 vehicles enter and leave the U.K. daily via the Eurotunnel rail service or ferries. EU countries estimate that paperwork would rise by 40-50% in the case of a no-deal.
But Moscovici says “I prefer strict controls at the price of a few lines of trucks to a health crisis or illegal trafficking. The security of Europeans will be our top priority.”
European Union lawmakers say British citizens should be allowed to travel in Europe visa-free after Brexit but only if the U.K. grants the same right to EU citizens, as the bloc prepares for Britain’s possible departure without a deal.
The EU’s Civil Liberties Committee voted overwhelmingly Wednesday — 38 votes in favor, 8 against and 3 abstentions — to allow tourism or business trips.
The move permits stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period, but does not grant the right to work. The full parliament is likely to endorse the decision Thursday.
EU officials say it is “very likely” that Britain will depart without a deal, bringing potentially devastating political and economic consequences.
The Europeans are publicly stepping up their no-deal planning, increasing pressure on the U.K. parliament to find a compromise.
Britain’s Brexit secretary says the government is not offering a “blank check” to the opposition after Prime Minister Theresa May offered to meet with the Labour Party leader in hopes of ending the impasse over the U.K.’s departure from the European Union.
Steve Barclay told the BBC on Wednesday that some Labour proposals, such as a customs union with the EU, would be “very difficult” for the government to accept but both sides need to sit down and work out an agreement to avoid a damaging no-deal Brexit.
Barclay said: “We’re not setting pre-conditions, but nor is it a blank check.”
But he added that the “remorseless logic” of Parliament’s failure to back the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement with the EU is that Britain must move toward a softer form of Brexit.