British Lawmakers Try to Stop ‘No-Deal’ Brexit

January 23, 2019 Updated: January 23, 2019

LONDON—An attempt by British lawmakers to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit gained momentum on Jan. 23 after the opposition Labour Party said it was likely to throw its parliamentary weight behind that effort.

The United Kingdom, facing the deepest political crisis since World War II, is due to leave the European Union on March 29, but has no approved deal on how the divorce will take place.

Prime Minister Theresa May is battling to break the deadlock after last week’s crushing defeat of her two-year attempt to forge an orderly divorce raised the prospect of an exit without a deal.

In a step that could overturn centuries of constitutional convention, some lawmakers are trying to grab control of Brexit from the government in an attempt to prevent what they say would be an economically disastrous no-deal departure.

Labour will probably back one such attempt, an amendment proposed by Labour lawmaker Yvette Cooper that could result in May being given until Feb. 26 to get a deal approved by parliament or face lawmakers voting on whether to delay Brexit.

John McDonnell, the second-most-powerful figure in the party, told the BBC the amendment was sensible and Labour was “highly likely” to back it. At least nine Conservative lawmakers have also publicly said they will support it, suggesting it has a good chance of passing.

As the United Kingdom’s tortuous crisis over EU membership approaches its finale, the possible outcomes for the world’s fifth-largest economy still include a no-deal Brexit, a last-minute deal, a delay, or a snap election.

But the EU, whose members are also worried by the prospect of a disorderly Brexit that would cost jobs in major economies such as Germany, cautioned that no-deal was still the default scenario until London proposed something else.

“Preparing for a no-deal scenario is more important now than ever, even though I still hope that we can avoid this scenario,” EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said in Brussels.

“Opposing no-deal will not stop no-deal from happening,” he said, adding it would be necessary for the British to find a majority in favor of another solution to a disorderly exit.

By Guy Faulconbridge and William James