- British PM Theresa May’s Brexit deal was defeated by a massive margin in Parliament yesterday.
- The PM faces a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Wednesday.
- With this defeat, the government has three working days to submit a new plan of action.
- Among the various options on the table, backing out of Brexit seems the best way out.
Britain has been a bitterly divided nation since the Brexit vote. And the divide was clearly visible in the House of Commons yesterday, as PM Theresa May’s Brexit vote was rejected in Parliament by 432 votes to 202.
(Trending video from Reuters)
It is historically the largest margin of defeat for a British government. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also pushed a no-confidence vote in May’s government that is expected to be held today.
May’s plan was an orderly exit from the EU on March 29, and then negotiating a free trade deal over a 21-month transition period.
Such a defeat would normally lead to a resignation by a PM. But May has assured that she will continue, pending the no-confidence vote. Interestingly, 118 Conservative party members also voted against the deal. But they are expected to support Theresa May in the no-confidence vote.
If she wins, May will have to get back to the EU to negotiate another deal. But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (above) feels that the risk of a disorderly Brexit is now higher with the deal being voted down.
European Council president Donald Tusk notably tweeted, “If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?”
Now May’s government has 3 working days to submit a new plan of action. It must be agreed with Europe and presented to UK lawmakers by Monday, January 21.
A critical provision being debated is the Northern Ireland backstop; a safety net to prevent against a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which remains with the EU.
A second referendum is now being pushed by a number of MPs as the 2016 referendum was a non-binding advisory poll. MPs in support of this option argue that the public now has a better idea of Brexit’s implications and their present mood should be gauged.
Some MPs contend that an extension of the deadline for Britain beyond March 29 is possible, but it has to be approved by the other 27 EU members.
The worst possible option is of a no-deal Brexit, which will be catastrophic. According to a study by Bank of England in late 2018, this would increase unemployment to 7.5%, crash the pound, shrink the economy by 8% and housing prices by 30%. There is a minority in support of this option.
Indeed, if May survives, she will have to consider both the views of the Parliament and the people of Britain. In 2016, around 48.1% people voted to stay in the EU and 51.1% voted against. But in the latest YouGov poll results (December 21, 2018-January 4, 2019), 54% people say that they would vote in favour of staying with EU.
Staying in EU appears to be a better option than a no-deal Brexit any day, which also has the support of the public at present. Moreover, negotiating a new deal would be a challenge in the present context with limited time. Should May plan ‘Bre-entry’, even though she is personally opposed to this idea?