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British lawmakers to vote on ‘no-deal’ Brexit

REUTERS | British lawmakers pack the House of Commons in London on March 12, 2019.

Britain’s parliament will vote on Wednesday on whether to leave the European Union in 16 days’ time without an agreement, a day after lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected a draft divorce agreement.

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Parliament is expected to vote against leaving the bloc without a deal, although it remains the default option come March 29 unless an alternative can be secured.

Lawmakers on Tuesday rejected for a second time the withdrawal deal agreed between Brussels and Prime Minister Theresa May, despite her obtaining last-minute assurances from EU officials over key sticking points.

Some eurosceptics are now pressing to end Britain's 46-year EU membership with no deal, but May warned this could cause "significant economic shock".

London announced Wednesday it would scrap tariffs on 87 percent of imports and would not apply customs checks on the border with Ireland if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal.

The temporary plan is aimed at avoiding a jump in prices of EU imports and a disruption of supply chains immediately after Britain leaves the EU.

Tariffs would be retained but reduced for some agricultural products such as beef, pork and dairy imports to protect British producers.

If the "no-deal" option is voted down on Wednesday, the government is planning another Commons vote on Thursday on whether or not to request a delay to Brexit.

>> Read more on ‘The Brexit rollercoaster: A timeline of Britain’s EU divorce’

After her defeat, May warned lawmakers on Tuesday: "Voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension does not solve the problems we face.

"The EU will want to know what use we mean to make of such an extension. This house will have to answer that question.

"Does it wish to revoke Article 50?" she said, referring to the Brexit process. "Does it want to hold a second referendum?  Or does it want to leave with a deal but not this deal?"

"These are unenviable choices but... they must now be faced."

A group of lawmakers will on Wednesday put forward an alternative proposal to delay Brexit until May 22 and strike a series of interim agreements with the EU lasting until 2021.

But Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said Brussels had done "everything it can" and must now brace for the possibility of a messy divorce.

“If the UK still wants to leave the EU in an orderly manner, this treaty is - and will remain - the only treaty possible,” Barnier told a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

After briefing her cabinet on the next steps, May is due to face questions in parliament from 12:00 pm (1200 GMT), immediately followed by finance minister Philip Hammond's annual budget update.

The budget announcement will contain the latest forecasts for UK growth -- widely expected to be downgraded owing to Brexit uncertainty and global economic headwinds.

The pound enjoyed a slight uptick after Tuesday's sharp losses but London's stock market fell at the open Wednesday.

The benchmark FTSE 100 index lost 0.3 percent to 7,131.23 points compared with the close on Tuesday.

Brexit delay?

Lamakers first rejected the 585-page Brexit deal in January by a historic margin of 230 votes.

Though some eurosceptics changed their minds, May failed to negotiate substantive changes to the deal and the scale of Tuesday's defeat was still a hefty 149.

If lawmakers vote against a no-deal exit on Wednesday, and want to postpone Brexit, the other 27 EU nations would have to agree. Their next summit is on March 21-22.

Any postponement, however, may be short-lived.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday said Brexit "should be complete before the European elections" at the end of May.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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