May defeated yet again

The UK parliament has again rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal after she secured legally binding assurances from Brussels on the controversial Irish 'backstop' – but the changes weren't enough to placate lawmakers.

Background 

On June 23rd, 2016, Britain narrowly voted to leave the European Union, stunning Europe and the world in general. The EU employs a set of policies for its 28-member states that aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods and trade among other services. Britain is deeply intertwined with the workings of the EU especially with regard to trade.

Over the two years, leaders of member nations have expressed their dismay over Britain leaving the body. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte are among those who have been vocal about their apprehension regarding the events that are unfolding.

In December 2017, UK Prime Minister Theresa May struck a last-minute deal with the EU regarding key issues. According to this deal, there will be no "hard border" in Ireland. The rights of EU citizens in the UK and the rights of UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU would also be protected. The deal was rejected by the British Parliament in January 2019. 

The UK is officially set to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

Analysis 

May's deal was defeated 391 to 242 on Tuesday evening and will be followed on Wednesday by a debate and vote in the House of Commons on the prospect of the UK leaving the EU with "no deal" in place - which MPs are also expected to reject. If that happens, MPs will vote on Thursday on extending article 50 which triggered the UK's exit process from the EU.

On 15 January 2019, the UK parliament had rejected a government motion to approve Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement which included a temporary “backstop” measure to prevent the Irish border from becoming a drawn-out conflict. 

May had earlier also expressed an opposition to the backstop that she and the EU had agreed on. She had also urged Tory MPs to back a backbench amendment replacing the backstop with unspecified "alternative arrangements".

May, who said that she “profoundly rejects” the decision taken by the house, added that Tory MPs will be given a free vote on the no-deal motion on Wednesday. She told parliament that she has struggled with the need to honor the 2016 Brexit referendum results while also getting a good deal from Brussels, adding that if MPs vote to leave with no deal, that will become official government policy.

After the vote, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused May of running down the clock on Brexit and said he will try to get MPs to back a Labour plan. He also said it was now “time for a general election.”

A spokesperson for European Council President Donald Tusk said he "regretted the outcome" of the vote and said the EU had "done all that is possible" to reach an agreement. "It is difficult to see what more we can do," the statement said, adding that the latest vote "significantly increased" the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit.

Tusk also said the EU would consider a "reasoned request" from London for an extension of article 50, but only with "credible justification."

If MPs opt for extending article 50 to continue deliberations, it still will not solve the problems May's government is facing. The choice will then have to be made as to whether article 50 is revoked completely, ending the Brexit process altogether, or for a new referendum to be held.

Labour MPs have been calling for clarification on what will happen on March 29 – the day the UK is scheduled to officially leave the EU. SNP MPs have reiterated calls for a second referendum, saying that the time has come for May to accept that a new referendum is necessary.

Assessment 

Our assessment is that Theresa May’s latest defeat adds to her growing list of failures over Brexit negotiations thereby weakening the confidence of both the public and parliament in her ability to lead the country through Brexit. We believe that the Parliament will likely ask for an extension on the Article 50 deadline to beyond March 29, 2019. 

 

Image Courtesy: European Parliament from EU

(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:May_at_the_EP_(46972553232).jpg), „May at the EP (46972553232)“, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode