BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain is more likely than ever to crash out of the European Union, diplomats and officials with the bloc said on Thursday after the UK parliament failed to produce a majority for any Brexit option and Theresa May was struggling to get her divorce deal approved.
The bloc will push ahead with contingency preparations next week and is gearing up for an emergency Brexit summit the week after, probably on April 10.
“There is increasing awareness that a no-deal is more and more likely,” said a senior EU diplomat.
Nearly three years after Britons decided in a closely fought referendum to leave the bloc, it is still not clear how, when or even if the divorce will materialize.
Brussels envoys of the 27 states staying in the EU discussed on Thursday the two main ways forward they now see: the no-deal Brexit or another, long delay to Britain’s departure date, the sources said.
“An extraordinary Brexit summit looks exceedingly likely. It will be either to discuss no-deal and how to take it forward, or to agree another extension,” said another senior EU diplomat.
With British politicians deadlocked, the EU agreed last week to delay Brexit from the original date of March 29. Britain will now leave on May 22 if the prime minister pushes her stalled withdrawal deal through the factious House of Commons this week. British lawmakers have overwhelmingly rejected the deal twice already.
EU diplomats and officials have signaled there may be some wiggle room if May manages to win the parliament over shortly afterwards. But they have set a firm April 12 deadline for the UK to announce what it plans to do next if it has failed to ratify the agreement.
Without a breakthrough, Britain would not necessarily crash out on April 12 as the bloc would be likely to agree a bit more time to finalize contingency preparations. France, however, is pushing for as swift an end as possible to the protracted Brexit uncertainty.
The bloc has announced a raft of measures aimed at easing the worst disruptions but two are still pending: granting Britons the right to travel to Europe without visas and deciding on the bloc’s 2019 budget - with or without London paying in.
If there is a long delay to Brexit, the EU would require the United Kingdom to take part in European Parliament elections on May 23-26.
The EU side also discussed on Thursday the possibilities that May will win a third vote on her exit plan, and that London could withdraw its leave notification - both seen as highly unlikely at the moment.
British lawmakers are due to discuss Brexit again on Friday.
Reporting by Jan Strupczewski, Alastair Macdonald, Gabriela Baczynska