Activists hold placards at a political rally entitled ‘Lets Go WTO’ hosted by pro-Brexit lobby group Leave Means Leave in London. Photo: AFP
Activists hold placards at a political rally entitled ‘Lets Go WTO’ hosted by pro-Brexit lobby group Leave Means Leave in London. Photo: AFP

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May scrambled to put together a new Brexit strategy after MPs rejected her EU divorce deal, and insisted she could not rule out a potentially damaging “no-deal” split.

The world’s fifth-largest economy is in political turmoil and grasping for solutions that could smooth its planned departure from the bloc after 46 years just 10 weeks from now.

Governments across Europe are triggering plans designed to avoid logjams at ports and airports when trade barriers go up should London fail to find a Plan B.

The government held individual talks with MPs from rival parties after narrowly surviving a confidence vote brought on by the crushing defeat over her old deal with Brussels on Tuesday.

But Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour party, called the talks a “stunt” and refused to meet May until she ruled out the possibility of Britain crashing out without any future arrangements in place.

In a written response to him Thursday, the prime minister said it was “impossible” for her to rule out no deal without stopping the process altogether.

“It is not within the government’s power to rule out no deal,” she wrote.

May will present her new approach to the House of Commons on Monday. MPs will then have a chance to submit amendments before a full debate on January 29 – exactly two months before Brexit date.

Downing Street on Thursday said May would miss next week’s annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, which she was scheduled to attend, to focus on Brexit negotiations.

Meanwhile, leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage urged Leave campaigners to prepare for the event of a second referendum as Britain’s deadlock continues.

“I don’t want it anymore than you do but I am saying to you we have to face reality,” he told a Leave Means Leave rally in London on Thursday night.

“Don’t think the other side aren’t organised. Don’t think the other side aren’t prepared. Don’t think they haven’t raised the money. Don’t think they haven’t got the teams in place. They have.”

Opposition MPs are pressing May to abandon the main principles that have guided her Brexit strategy for the past two years.

Corbyn insisted she must “ditch the red lines” that keep Britain from forging closer trade relations with Europe after Brexit.

He specifically mentioned maintaining a customs union with the EU that some businesses favour but May rejects because it limits Britain’s ability to strike its own trade deals.

“Theresa May has to ditch the red lines and get serious about proposals for the future,” the Labour leader told supporters in the southeastern town of Hastings. – AFP