UK says will fight 'inconvenient' plot to hobble no-deal Brexit

With less than three months until Britain leaves the European Union, May is struggling to win approval for her Brexit deal.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street in central London after winning a confidence vote on 12 December 2018. Picture: AFP

LONDON - Britain’s government will oppose a parliamentary bid to make it harder for Prime Minister Theresa May to leave the European Union without a deal, saying it was undesirable but, if approved, would be little more than an inconvenience.

MPs are expected to vote later on Tuesday on a change to budget laws which would mean the government needs explicit parliamentary approval to leave the EU without a deal before it can use certain powers relating to taxation law.

“The amendment is not desirable but the effect of the amendment on no-deal preparations would be inconvenience rather than anything more significant,” May’s spokesman said.

A source in May’s Conservative Party later confirmed the government would order its MPs to vote against the plan.

With less than three months until Britain leaves the European Union, May is struggling to win approval for her Brexit deal, increasing the chances that the country ends up leaving without an exit agreement.

A no-deal exit is the default scenario if May’s deal is rejected, and the prospect of possible supply chain disruption, medicine shortage and blocked ports has in recent weeks pushed companies and the government to ramp up contingency planning.

A group of MPs from across the political spectrum opposed to a no-deal exit are trying to make it harder for the government to leave without a deal.

Their amendment to legislation implementing last year’s budget states that powers to amend tax laws to make them work after Brexit could only be used if a deal was agreed, Brexit was cancelled, or, if the government had parliamentary approval to proceed with a no-deal exit.

Effectively this constrains the government’s ability to act to keep its taxation systems working smoothly if it pursues a no-deal Brexit against the wishes of a majority in parliament.

It is not an absolute block to leaving the EU without a deal because it does not negate the legislation already in place stating that Britain will leave the EU on 29 March.

But if passed, it would be a politically important victory for those opposed to no-deal, demonstrating that they have the ability to defeat the government. With a raft of other legislation still needing to be approved before Brexit day, that would signal further difficulties for the government.

May does not have an outright majority in parliament and her party is split over the best course to take.

With the support of the opposition Labour Party and others, only a handful of Conservative MPs would have to support the amendment for it to pass. Several have already indicated publicly they would do so.