British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday that a vote in parliament is a chance to draw a line under divisions that have prevented parliament approving a Brexit deal, and is an opportunity to show the European Union what lawmakers do want.
“Today we have the chance to show the European Union what it will take to get a deal through this House of Commons, what it will take to move beyond the confusion and division and uncertainty that now hangs over us,” May told parliament.
“I also accept that this House does not want the deal I put before it, in the form that it currently exists. The vote was decisive and I listened. So the world knows what this House does not want. Today we need to send an emphatic message about what we do want.”
However, Brussels has repeatedly said it does not want to reopen the treaty, which has been signed off by the other 27 EU leaders, and has said there must be a “backstop”, a guarantee to ensure there is no return to a hard border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.
“We will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement. So it may be about semantics of what ‘reopening’ means,” an EU diplomat involved in Brexit talks said. “If things go towards more declarations, assurances or statements - we can do that. But if she really wants to reopen the whole thing, then it’s a ‘no’.”
Unless lawmakers agree a way forward or the EU agree to extend the negotiating period, then Britain will leave without any deal, a scenario that businesses fear will bring chaos to the world’s fifth biggest economy.
There have been warnings that borders will be snarled up, hitting trade and leading to shortages. On Monday major grocers and fast-food restaurants warned food supplies could be seriously disrupted.
Sterling has recently hit 2-1/2 month highs of $1.3218 against the US dollar on hopes that a no-deal Brexit would be avoided but has retreated slightly from those levels and was holding at $1.3178 at 1520 GMT on Tuesday.