Three ministers throw weight behind Brexit delay to stop no-deal

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Secretary of State for Business Greg Clark is seen outside of Downing Street in London, Britain, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

LONDON (Reuters) – Three cabinet ministers publicly indicated on Saturday they will back plans to delay Brexit if MPs vote down Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan for a new deal with the European Union.

Business minister Greg Clark, work and pensions minister Amber Rudd, and justice minister David Gauke signalled in a Daily Mail column that they will side with rebels and opposition parties next week to stop Britain leaving the European Union without a divorce deal on March 29 if necessary, adding their weight to calls for May to rule out a no-deal departure.

May is struggling against the clock to get a deal with Brussels on Britain’s exit from the world’s largest trading bloc that will pass parliamentary muster. She will meet European Council President Donald Tusk on the sidelines of an EU-League of Arab States summit on Sunday, but EU diplomats are not expecting any imminent breakthrough.

In the newspaper column headlined “If we don’t get a deal next week we must delay Brexit”, Clark, Rudd and Gauke wrote that a no-deal exit was a risk to business, security and British territorial unity, and accused some colleagues in parliament of complacency.

“Far from Brexit resulting in a newly independent United Kingdom stepping boldly into the wider world, crashing out on March 29 would see us poorer, less secure and potentially splitting up,” they said, referring to the threat of a new bid for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom.

“Our economy will be damaged severely both in the short and the long term. Costs will increase, businesses that rely on just-in-time supply chains will be severely disrupted and investment will be discouraged,” they wrote.

The ministers called on members of the European Research Group, formed by Conservative pro-Brexit MPs, to back the government’s deal in parliament or risk seeing Brexit delayed.

But in a further sign of deep division over the issue, May’s junior minister for Northern Ireland, John Penrose, wrote a column in the Sunday Telegraph saying removing the option of a no-deal departure on March 29 “could torpedo Brexit completely”. Penrose said such a move could lead to further temporary extensions that “would become permanent.”

Both May’s Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party are formally committed to delivering Brexit. Labour has recently appeared to soften its stance on a second referendum, although May has ruled such an option out.

MPs from both parties, however, are deeply split over how or even whether Britain will leave, and no majority has so far emerged in parliament for any comprehensive Brexit strategy.

May has promised that if she does not bring a revised deal back by Feb. 27, parliament will have an opportunity to vote on the next steps. Some lawmakers are expected to use that to try to wrest control of the process from the government.

(Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary and Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Tom Brown, Helen Popper and Paul Simao)

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