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Brexit latest: European Commission says a no-deal Brexit is 'increasingly likely'

"This will obviously cause significant disruption for citizens and businesses," it said.
Image: EU supporters participate in the 'People's Vote' march in central London
E.U. supporters, calling on the government to give Britons a vote on the final Brexit deal, participate in a "People's Vote" march in London on Saturday. Peter Nicholls / Reuters

LONDON — This was supposed to be the week when, for better or worse, Britain's Brexit future finally started to take shape.

This Friday, March 29, was the deadline etched into law as well as the minds of many Brits — the date they were finally set to leave the European Union.

But with British politics deep in uncharted waters, even that has been postponed. Because of an 11th-hour extension agreed to by Prime Minister Theresa May and European leaders last week, Brexit won't happen until at least April 12.

A delay, but far from a solution. All of the same problems that have reduced Brexit to chaos and quagmire still hang over this divided country.

On Monday, the European Commission said it was "increasingly likely" the U.K. will crash out of the E.U. without a deal. A "no-deal Brexit" does have some supporters, but many experts see it as a nightmare scenario that could blight the economy and bring shortages of food, medicine and basic supplies.

"It is now important that everyone is ready for and aware of the practical consequences a 'no-deal' scenario brings," the European Commission said in a statement. "This will obviously cause significant disruption for citizens and businesses."

To prepare for this possibility, the British government has put some 3,500 military personnel on standby, and a crisis-management team has begun operating out of a nuclear bunker beneath the Ministry of Defense, Sky News reported last week.

Meanwhile, lawmakers of all stripes are planning later Monday to try to seize control of the Brexit process from May, whose own deal has been crushed twice by the House of Commons.

These members of Parliament will vote on an amendment to take control of Parliament business on Wednesday so they can gauge support on a range of different ideas.

It's not clear exactly how this process would work, but the general idea is that lawmakers would submit a list suggestions, known as "indicative votes." Options might include: the prime minister's deal, a no-deal Brexit, a second referendum, canceling Brexit altogether, or more or less extreme plans than the one May has already negotiated.

Meanwhile, May appears weaker than ever. And yet — as with all prior reports of her imminent downfall over the past few months — she hangs on to power.

It was widely reported by British media over the weekend that senior members of her government had discussed plotting a mass resignation in a bid to force May to resign. On Sunday she hosted a high-stakes meeting with senior pro-Brexit politicians, all men from her own Conservative Party, which reportedly broke up without agreement.

The next day, Britain's biggest-selling newspaper, The Sun, devoted its front page to the message: "Time's Up, Theresa."

Another, The Daily Telegraph, hosted an op-ed by New York-born British lawmaker Boris Johnson telling the prime minister to stand down because she had "chickened out" by postponing Brexit rather than taking the U.K. out of Europe on the planned date.

If pro-Brexit forces were flexing their muscles behind the scenes, Britons who are against leaving the E.U. made their feelings known more publicly. On Saturday, as many as a million demonstrators took to the streets of London to call for a second referendum. Almost 5.5 million have signed a petition on Parliament's website to cancel Brexit altogether.

Britain voted to leave the E.U. in June 2016. The U.K. and Europe are linked by more than four decades of shared laws and regulations, operating almost like a single country in many respects.

British lawmakers disagree on how best to unpick this relationship, deciding which connections to keep and which to ditch.

They have soundly rejected a deal negotiated between the prime minister and the E.U. in November — handing it the heaviest and fourth heaviest defeats in parliamentary history.

Image: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during a debate on her Brexit 'plan B' in Parliament
Prime Minister Theresa May has suffered repeated political defeats in Parliament.Reuters file

Down but somehow not out, the prime minister has suggested she may try for a third time to push it through the House of Commons on Tuesday or Thursday.

However, she would need to convince 75 lawmakers to change their minds, a task many political analysts believe is likely well beyond her reach.

If May's deal were to pass, the E.U. will give the U.K. a short, "technical extension" until May 22 to iron out the details. If not, and unless there is another intervention, Britain will still crash out on April 12 without a deal.

"While a 'no-deal' scenario is not desirable, the E.U. is prepared for it," the European Commission said.