The U.K.'s Brexit crisis deepened Tuesday as the European Union's chief negotiator warned Britain faces crashing out of the bloc in ten day's time unless lawmakers can find a way out of the current impasse.
Speaking at an event in Brussels, Michel Barnier said last night's debate in Parliament, which ended in a series of votes that failed to find an alternative to Prime Minister Theresa May's thrice-rejected Withdrawal Agreement, has made the prospect of a damaging "no deal" Brexit more likely.
"No deal was never our desired or intended scenario," Barnier told a thinktank even in Brussels. "But the (27 European Union member states) is now prepared. It becomes day after day more likely."
The U.K. pound was marked at 1.3047 against the U.S. dollar following Barnier's remarks in Brussels, which will heap further pressure on May to bring her divided government, as well as her Parliamentary rivals, closer to a deal in the coming days as her extended Brexit deadline of April 12 approaches.
Barnier also indicated that Britain's options appeared to have narrowed to three: May's deal, no deal or a new election or referendum in order to find a fresh electoral mandate that would solve nearly three years of parliamentary failure and require an extend Brexit delay.
"If the U.K. so wishes, we are ready to rework the political declaration as long as the fundamental principles of the EU are respected," Barnier said, while warning that terms of the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be revisited if Brexit is further delayed.
"There will be no negotiations on future relations. We cannot negotiate with a member state on future relations - there is no legal right to do that," he said. "If there is no deal, there is no transition."
However, with lawmakers rejecting all of the Brexit alternatives on offer last night, and vowing to vote her Withdrawal Agreement down for fourth time if it comes to the House this week, few observers see a way forward in the current political crisis which has crippled the government's ability to focus on important issues in the world's fifth largest economy such as crime, climate change and educational reform.
May will chair an extended meeting of her divided cabinet later today in London, with the aim of securing a consensus among her most senior colleagues in order to break the current deadlock.
May's Withdrawal Agreement, which she still insists remains the only viable option, essentially removes Britain from the EU but sets up a transition period during which talks on a future trading relationship will take place.
Lawmakers have been reluctant to support it, however, as it has failed to satisfy those who wish to leave completely and sign new trade deals right away, as well as those who feel it cuts ties too quickly with Britain's biggest trading partner.
The key issue, however, is the treatment of the border between the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, and Northern Ireland, a U.K. territory.
Leaving the EU and its customs union would allow Britain to sign new trade agreements, but could also risk having a hard border between the two states that would violate terms of the Good Friday Peace Agreement signed in 1998.