The risk of a “no-deal” Brexit is high following the “crushing defeat” for Theresa May’s agreement, a top EU official has warned.
Sabine Weyand, the bloc’s deputy chief negotiator, claimed it was “quite a challenge” to see how MPs would now form a “positive majority” in favour of a withdrawal agreement.
With the UK currently set to depart the bloc on 29 March, the “default” outcome would see Britain “crashing out” the EU without a divorce deal, Ms Weyand said.
She described a no-deal Brexit as “the most costly version of Brexit for everyone concerned” but said the EU “think we can handle it”, adding: “I’m less sure about the UK side.”
Ms Weyand also reiterated the EU’s opposition to renegotiating the deal agreed between the prime minister and Brussels last year, despite Downing Street later suggesting Mrs May could ask for talks to be reopened.
The House of Commons will on Tuesday vote on Mrs May’s next steps on the UK’s departure, with various factions of MPs looking to shape the course of Brexit.
It comes after MPs overwhelmingly rejected – by 230 votes – the prime minister’s Brexit deal earlier this month.
Speaking to a conference organised by the European Policy Centre think-tank in Brussels on Monday, Ms Weyand said: “It is quite a challenge to see how you can construct from a diversity of the opposition a positive majority for the deal.”
The European Commission official also spoke of a lack of “ownership” in the UK on the withdrawal agreement.
As Michel Barnier’s deputy negotiator, Ms Weyand has been directly involved in the Brexit talks, serving as the counterpart of UK negotiator Olly Robbins.
Many MPs are opposed to the backstop arrangement within the prime minister’s deal, which is aimed at avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland should a future UK-EU trade deal not avert such a scenario.
Tory Brexiteers are calling for Mrs May to demand changes to the terms of the backstop within her withdrawal agreement, including a request for the arrangement to be time-limited or the UK to have a unilateral right to exit.
But, Ms Weyand warned: “There will be no more negotiations on the withdrawal agreement.”
She added: “A time-limit on the backstop defeats the purpose of the backstop because it means that once the backstop expires you stand there with no solution for this border.”
However, Ms Weyand did suggest there was “margin” for manoeuvre on the political declaration between the EU and UK for a post-Brexit trade deal, a document that accompanies the withdrawal agreement.
“We need decisions on the UK side on the direction of travel,” she added.
Despite the EU’s repeated insistence that the withdrawal agreement cannot be reopened, the prime minister’s spokesman signalled Mrs May could demand a renegotiation of the backstop.
“If we want to secure a deal… something within that original deal will have to change,” he said.