Ireland and France led countries neighbouring Britain in announcements that preparations for a no-deal exit of the UK from the EU were ramping up a day after Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament her government would re-open negotiations on the terms of the deal.
With the exit date of March 29 looming ever closer, Mrs May embarked on a new whirlwind tour of European capital to renegotiate her Brexit deal when it became clear lawmakers would reject the proposed agreement on offer. EU leaders have said they will not alter the deal but may offer additional agreements. The sticking point over any threat of a return to a hard border in Ireland, known as the Irish backstop, remains unbridgeable.
Mrs May will first head to The Hague for talks with Dutch leader Mark Rutte and will then head to Berlin to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel.
The prime minister was due to meet with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Tuesday night, with the latter announcing “there is no room for renegotiation, but further clarifications are possible”.
Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, called on May to immediate put any concessions to the House of Common, where he said the government had lost its majority. He said the trip was a “farcical foray” and “the unspeakable in pursuit of the unwritten; a waste of time and a waste of public money”.
The parliament briefly went into lock down on Tuesday during a security scare at its gates. A man managed to jump the railings in the grounds of Westminster, before being tasered by police. It is unclear if he was armed, but police said it was not being treated as a terrorist-related incident.
Sterling rose against the US dollar in the morning before falling by mid afternoon near to where it started at 1.25665. Against the Euro, after a midday dip, it rose to 1.1088 up from 1.1060 at 8am GMT.
Despite intense opposition from Mrs May’s own MPs, the decision to pull the vote caught her European counterparts off-guard. There seemed to be widespread incredulity that the UK government was postponing the vote, with officials insisting it had got the best deal possible.
Mrs May is seeking confirmation the UK won’t be trapped in a Northern Ireland backstop plan indefinitely, as warned as possible by the Attorney General last week, the BBC reported.
“We are now actively, not only preparing for that, but taking actions to ensure that if necessary, we will be ready on March 29 for Britain to leave the EU without a deal,” Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney told RTE. He did, however, add that ultimately he thought a no deal Brexit was unlikely to happen.
The foreign minister said he hoped the EU could reassure Mrs May the “backstop is not something to be feared” by parliament “but actually something that is very much consistent with the responsibilities of both the British government and Irish government to the people of the island”.
Mr Coveney said Ireland was fast tracking the recruitment of some 1,000 customs officials and veterinary inspectors to work at ports and airports in light of the likely changes expected when the UK leaves the EU.
France’s Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau said she was very concerned by the postponement of the vote and added it was the “only possible agreement and we’ve done a lot of concessions to reach it. We have to stand ready for a no deal and we’re preparing for it.”
Mr Corbyn has been urged by other parities in parliament to table a motion of no confidence in the government.
“We know that Labour’s members and supporters, like our own, want a different government and, if they cannot get that, demand a People’s Vote,” the Westminster party leaders of the Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party, Greens and Plaid Cymru said in a letter.
Last night, however, Labour said they would call a vote of no confidence "when we judge it most likely to be successful. The statement appeared to suggest this would be when, in Labour's view, Mrs May returned without any significant concessions for the EU.