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EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has told UK lawmakers that — if they want an orderly Brexit — Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is the only show in town.
Barnier outlined three choices for the UK Parliament on Tuesday but stressed that, for an orderly exit from the European Union, it would be necessary to back UK Prime Minister Theresa May's deal.
The House of Commons must find a positive way to avoid a no deal scenario after MPs repeatedly rejected the Withdrawal Agreement and failed to reach a majority on alternative ideas.
Barnier set out three possibilities
For her part, May was holding five hours of meetings with her Cabinet on Tuesday to try to find a way forward.
French President Emmanuel Macron met with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Paris on Tuesday. Macron too urged the British government to come up with a plan: "If the United Kingdom is not capable, almost three years after the referendum, of coming forward with a solution that is
supported by a majority, it will have effectively chosen a no-deal exit on its own," he said.
Deal is 'only way' for smooth Brexit
The Withdrawal Agreement does not include a plan for future relations, which are to be discussed in the next phase of Brexit talks.
If there were an extension to Article 50, Barnier said, the so-called political agreement — which sets out the future relationship — could be reworked.
"If the UK so wish we're ready to rework the political declaration so long as the principles of the EU are respected. We can accept a customs union or a relationship along the style of the Norway model," Barnier said.
A customs union is one type of "soft Brexit" that would see the UK retain the same tariff system as the EU, helping businesses send goods back and forth to the bloc. However, it would still not allow completely frictionless trade, and would prevent the UK from doing its own trade deals.
Read more: What the European Union wants
The option of emulating a Norway-style agreement would see Britain no longer an EU member but still part of the bloc's single market. It would mean respecting EU rules on free movement of people, goods and capital — things that would be unacceptable to many Brexiters.
A Norway or customs union resolution should solve the problem of the Irish border "backstop."
A second referendum, as backed by the People’s Vote campaign, could mean that Brexit never takes place at all, although — with a majority in the House of Commons against — that still looks unlikely.
Preparations for no deal
Barnier said the EU27 were ready for a no-deal Brexit, even if it were abrupt.
Barnier said that, even if there were no deal, Brussels would insist that the UK honor its obligations on citizens' rights, a financial settlement and the Irish border.
"Being prepared for no deal doesn't mean that everything will be smooth," Barnier said. "There will be disruptions. There will be problems. Being prepared means all unforeseen disruptions could be managed by the EU."
rc/jil (Reuters, dpa)