Nathalie Loiseau, the Europe minister, told France Inter this morning: “It’s bad news, because this withdrawal agreement negotiated for nearly two years is a good agreement and the only agreement possible. It’s for the British to decide what they want. We see there is no majority for this agreement, but we don’t know what there IS a majority for… they want to leave the European Union to do what?”
Asked why leaving the EU was proving so difficult, Loiseau said: “A certain number of British, including British politicians, didn’t realise what being a member of the EU meant.” She added that there had been “massive disinformation” during the referendum campaign.
Can the agreement be renegotiated? “The text cannot be reopened especially after we’ve gone 17 months with all the coming and going. It’s been one third of my work since I became minister, which is a bit excessive, and we have other things to do in Europe than busy ourselves with a divorce …”
She added: “Nobody thinks a no deal is a good situation, but we are preparing for that”, but warned: “We aren’t going to unknit the European Union because the UK wants to leave.”
Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, says the ball is in Britain’s court to bring clarity to the chaos.
“The MPs of the lower house have not made it known what they want, only what they don’t want,” he told the broadcaster Deutschlandfunk this morning.
“That is not enough,” he said. He added he did not support the idea of renegotiating the deal, saying that many compromises had already been made by both sides. “If one had been able to offer more, we would have had to do that weeks ago.”
He said the German government would follow closely the vote of confidence in Theresa May, but her fall would make the situation only more complicated.
“For the negotiations we need a stable government,” he said. Extending article 50 would be complicated in the light of upcoming European elections, he said, and anyway, an extension would require a clear idea as to what London wanted.
“It will only make sense if there’s a way which has as its goal to reach a deal between the EU and Britain and at the moment there’s not a majority viewpoint in the British parliament”.
The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has again ducked the question of whether the Labour frontbench will back a second referendum. He insisted it was for Labour’s membership to decide.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said: “If we secured a general election, our party then would have to decision about what goes into the manifesto. There is strong support that if there is an impasse we go back to the people. Our preference is a general election, if we get, there is also that view that there should be another referendum.
“”My view is that it will be decided by the democratic wishes of our party members. The options will be: we put forward our own proposals on a deal, or you put forward those plus the possibility of a referendum.
“What went through our Labour party conference last year was: seek to get a deal that protects jobs and the economy, if you can’t do that, then it’s a referendum to ask people to think again. I think if we do move to a general election that that the sort of debate that we will have.”
McDonnell insisted a compromise deal could be reached with the government.
My own view is that Theresa May could sort this now. If she had a real discussion, a real approach to compromise bring all the parties together I think there could be a compromise most probably on the basis of what Labour is advocating. But the problem that she’s got is that I don’t think people have any faith in her anymore to deliver that.
Clearly extending article 50 is now on the agenda but that is for the government to decide.
He appeared to concede that it was unlikely that the government would lose today’s confidence vote. “People don’t expect us to win that, but who can tell?”
If that goes down, parliament really has to take a strong role … proper negotiations and discussions to see if there is a compromise that can be reached. Theresa May has said she is willing to enter into those discussions, but she hasn’t said she is willing to enter into them with Jeremy Corbyn. She has not contacted us.
We haven’t been invited into those discussions yet. Then she’s set conditions, she’s ruling out by the looks of it a customs union which most of the opposition parties support.
We believe we should have a permanent customs union. The relationship with the single market should be a close and collaborative relationship.
Writing in the Spanish daily El País, Lluís Bassets warned that Tuesday’s vote had been far from decisive, despite the scale of May’s defeat.
“To the misfortune of the British, and perhaps also the Europeans, this Tuesday was a historic day that does not preclude more historic days, all accompanied by the tragic storm clouds that tend to shadow history,” he wrote.
Bassets said “the great shredding machine that is Brexit” was still hard at work, “fed by uncertainty, bitterness and rancour – the three dismal feelings that May evoked in her defeat speech, and the three evil spirits that only grow with each day that Brexit remains unresolved”.
El Mundo’s main headline on Wednesday morning was equally gloomy: “A humiliating defeat for May leaves Brexit in limbo”. The prime minister’s plan, it added, had “crashed spectacularly” in parliament.
In an editorial, the rightwing ABC said that as neither May nor parliament had shown themselves capable of dealing with the crisis, the matter should be put to the people once more.
“It seems clear that the moment has arrived to put the decision in the hands of the people, and the most sensible thing to do would be hold another referendum just as voters get to grips with the true arguments rather than just the nationalist-populist propaganda of the pro-Brexit lobby.”
The online paper eldiario.es noticed that Michael Gove had invoked the famous Game of Thrones line, “Winter is coming”.
“He was one of the heavyweights in the party that had the most influence in the Brexit referendum,” wrote Iñigo Sáenz de Ugarte.
“Gove and others like him brought winter to British politics and are now horrified at how cold things have got. Too cold for their fellow countrymen.”