U.K. Says Won't Delay Exit as Speculation Grows: Brexit Update

Tim Ross, Alex Morales and Thomas Penny
U.K. Says Won't Delay Exit as Speculation Grows: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. Parliament continues to debate Theresa May’s apparently doomed Brexit deal, with speculation mounting that exit day will be delayed. The pound rose on growing expectations that Brexit will be postponed.

Key developments

Pound rises after Evening Standard reports ministers expect Brexit to be delayedMay’s office rules out an extensionRudd vows to try to stop no-deal, won’t say if she’d quit CabinetWhat are May’s options if she’s defeated on Tuesday? Here’s a list.

Former Labour Minister Gives May Reason to Hope (3 p.m.)

Labour former minister Jim Fitzpatrick gave May reason to hope that Labour lawmakers are increasingly willing to back her Brexit deal.

“I’m talking myself into supporting the prime minister’s deal next Tuesday against no deal and against further delay. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m not far away,” he told lawmakers in the House of Commons. “At some point we need to recognize that the danger of no deal is there and the only real alternative on the table is the prime minister’s deal.”

Later, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt concluded the day’s debate. It was a continuation of his theme in his BBC Radio interview earlier, that the biggest risk to the U.K. was not delivering on the mandate from the 2016 referendum.

“Britain’s friends across the world, the governments I deal with everyday, hope and expect that we will leave the EU in an orderly way and emerge as a reinvigorated ally on the international stage,” he said. “So let us rise to the moment, meet those expectations and show that whatever our views may be -- Leaver or Remainer -- we are all democrats, proud to be in one of the oldest democracies in the world where we do what people tell us.”

EU-U.K. Contact on Brexit Deal at ‘All Levels’ (12 p.m.)

Contact between the European Union and the U.K. government over the Brexit deal is happening at “all levels” ahead of the parliamentary vote in London next week, according to a senior European official, who spoke to reporters in Bucharest on condition of anonymity.

May Rules Out Brexit Delay: Spokeswoman (11:15 a.m.)

Prime Minister Theresa May has and still rules out delaying Brexit by extending Article 50, her spokeswoman Alison Donnelly told reporters. The government will ensure the legislation needed for leaving the EU will be passed in time for Brexit day on March 29, she said.

Asked if May rules out extending Article 50, Donnelly said: “Yes, and she has done.”

“It’s government policy that this is not something we are going to do,” she said.

That’s a quick response to the Evening Standard report (10:55 a.m.), which cited unidentified ministers as saying they expect Brexit to be delayed due to the backlog of necessary legislation needed for Brexit.

It’s worth noting that the government, including May, had become less categorical in ruling out an extension in recent weeks.

Kurz: Delay Is Only Option If No Brexit Progress (11:10 a.m.)

“We have to see, everything is going very slowly,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters after a government conclave in Mauerbach, Austria on the subject of delaying Brexit. “If there is no progress, this is the only option.”

Brexit Likely to Be Delayed: Evening Standard (10:55 a.m.)

The Evening Standard reported Cabinet ministers expect Brexit to be delayed beyond March 29 due to the backlog of legislation needed to pass before Britain leaves the European Union. The newspaper didn’t identify the ministers, who said even if Parliament worked over the weekends between now and Brexit day, it wouldn’t be enough to avoid a delay.

The pound rose on the report.

Javid: Wants EU Citizens to Stay Even in No Deal (10:05 a.m.)

Home Secretary Sajid Javid is opening the third day of debate the Brexit withdrawal agreement. “The clock is ticking,” he said. “Now is the time for everyone to get behind the deal.” He reiterated the government’s line on EU citizens living in the U.K., that they’re welcome to stay regardless of of the Brexit outcome -- but he also called on EU states to clarify the status of British citizens living in the bloc.

In response, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said her party wants to “honor the referendum vote” -- immediately drawing an intervention from a lawmaker on her own side, Mike Gapes, who asked whether Labour would support Brexit even if it damaged voters’ interests. “Actually the position of the Labour Party was set out in the manifesto,” she replied. “We are committed to a jobs-first Brexit which will not harm our economy.”

It’s yet another reminder of the Brexit divisions that run through Labour, just as much as the Tories. Read more: Corbyn Bids to Heal Labour Brexit Split With Focus on Inequality

EU’s Juncker Talking to May on Deal (9:45 a.m.)

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he’s in touch with the U.K. government to help Theresa May win parliamentary support for the Brexit deal -- though he reiterated that the remaining 27 EU members are willing to offer only clarifications and are opposed to reopening the accord.

“Every effort needs to be made to make sure this important issue is resolved satisfactorily,” he said.

Hunt Says Parliament Unlikely to Allow No Deal (8:15 a.m.)

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he believes Parliament won’t stand for no-deal Brexit. It’s much more likely that politicians will try to stop the U.K. leaving without an agreement, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.

Hunt warned of “Brexit paralysis” leading potentially to the U.K. staying in the EU if the House of Commons rejects May’s withdrawal agreement on Tuesday. MPs who think they’ll have a chance to vote on their alternative Brexit visions after rejecting the government plan may be disappointed, he said.

“If this deal is rejected, ultimately what we may end up with is not a different type of Brexit, but Brexit paralysis,” he said. “And Brexit paralysis ultimately could lead to no Brexit, and what I’m saying is this would be incredibly damaging for breach of trust, it would be very damaging to Britain’s reputation abroad.”

Hunt has been adopting a more euroskeptic tone, and stuck to his line of recent weeks that Britain would “succeed” regardless of the Brexit outcome. But he also said “it’s incredibly important” for the government to win the vote on May’s deal on Tuesday.

“A version of this deal with reassurances over the backstop actually has the best chance of uniting Parliament and the country,” he said.

Rudd Declines to Rule Out Quitting Over ‘No Deal’ (7:20 a.m.)

Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd underlined the damaging impact of leaving the EU in March without a new trade agreement in place, and hinted she could even quit over the issue.

“This is a strong and great country, we will find a way to succeed,” Rudd told BBC radio’s Today program on Friday.“But I do not think that ‘no deal’ will be good for this country and I am committed to making sure that we find an alternative.” Rudd was asked three times if she’d resign from the government if it pursued a no-deal Brexit. She refused to say.

Her intervention follows similar comments from Business Secretary Greg Clark. It shows how pro-EU ministers in May’s Cabinet are increasingly emboldened to make their case against May’s threat to take the U.K. out of the bloc without an agreement with the European Union. It also highlights that Cabinet unity is fracturing as Britain gets closer to the March 29 Brexit day cliff-edge.


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--With assistance from Jonathan Stearns, Irina Vilcu and Thomas Penny.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tim Ross in London at tross54@bloomberg.net;Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Thomas Penny in London at tpenny@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Emma Ross-Thomas at erossthomas@bloomberg.net, Stuart Biggs

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