Britain faces accidental 'no deal' Brexit: EU

Brussels (AFP) –


Britain risks crashing out of the European Union without a Brexit deal "by accident" because London cannot decide what it wants, a senior EU negotiator warned Monday.

In some of her toughest remarks to date, Sabine Weyand, deputy to EU Brexit pointman Michel Barnier, criticised Prime Minister Theresa May's handling of divorce talks.

"There is a very real risk of crash out. Not by design but by accident," Weyand told an expert audience invited by the European Policy Centre think tank.

Weyand complained that May had kept her own cabinet and MPs in the dark during 18 months of intense negotiations.

As a result, she argued, many Westminster lawmakers were surprised by the content of the withdrawal deal May signed with EU leaders in November -- and rejected it.

May is now seeking tweaks to the accord and to a parallel political declaration on future EU-British relations in the hope of belatedly winning domestic support.

But the prospect of Brexit Day, March 29, coming round without an agreement is becoming ever more likely.

"The crash out is the only scenario that does not require anyone to take any action or any decisions, and that is why the risk of a crash out is so high," Weyand said.

On Tuesday, British MPs will vote on a raft of amendments that could end up forcing May to either seek a delay in the Brexit date or a revising withdrawal agreement.

- 'Groundhog day' -

But Weyand warned that negotiations are over, and that this would not have been a surprise if May had kept her sceptical cabinet up to date on the state of talks.

"There are now ideas floating around again, and it does feel like Groundhog Day, about a time limit to the backstop or a unilateral exit clause," she said.

"Let me just reassure you: None of this is new."

May is expected back in Brussels to ask that the so-called "Irish backstop", meant to guarantee no return of a border in Ireland, be stripped from the deal.

Weyand said this had been rejected by all 27 EU leaders:

"This negotiation is in London. There's no negotiation between the EU and the UK. That negotiation is finished. We are not going to reopen the withdrawal agreement."

Weyand praised May for accepting "ownership" of the deal, but warned she had lost her cabinet and party's support: "You cannot lead a negotiation like that in secrecy.

"On the UK side, the fact this was handled within a very small circle and there was no information about all the things that were tried in the negotiations, is now a big handicap."