Ten weeks before the Britain is due to leave the European Union, lawmakers rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
LONDON – British Prime Minister Theresa May faced a new battle to save her job Wednesday following a stinging defeat in Parliament over her Brexit deal to leave the European Union – but while May, and Brexit, are down, they are far from out.
May lost Tuesday’s vote on the deal she agreed with the EU to leave the bloc by 432-202. But while the defeat was widely expected, the scale of the loss was not, causing opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to call for a no-confidence vote in her government. May is expected to win. If she doesn’t, she could resign and trigger a general election with just 10 weeks to go before the U.K. leaves the EU.
The vote is likely to be held around 7 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET).
If a new election is called, it would be Britain’s third in four years.
Still, May stands a good chance of surviving the vote because though many members of her Conservative Party voted against the exit deal on the grounds they believe it keeps the U.K. substantially tethered to the bloc, they still back her as leader. She survived another confidence vote late last year.
For many British lawmakers, the most contentious part of May’s EU deal is the Irish “backstop,” a largely unresolved question over the land border between Northern Ireland (part of Britain) and Ireland (part of the EU). Decades of peace between Northern Ireland’s Irish Catholic community and its British Protestant one have been facilitated by the free trade and travel across that border that EU membership allows.
All concerned want to avoid a return to a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit. The “backstop” is envisioned as a temporary measure to allow the border to remain open in the event that the U.K. and EU fail to reach a free trade deal.
Critics worry it could indefinitely maroon Northern Ireland outside the U.K., in the EU.
Meanwhile, both May and her counterparts in the EU have ruled out any major renegotiations on the deal that has already been signed off on. Michel Barnier, the EU’s top Brexit negotiator, said Wednesday he is stepping up preparations for a chaotic “no-deal” departure of Britain from the 28-nation bloc.
“Whatever happens, ratification of the withdrawal agreement (May’s deal) is necessary. It is a precondition,” he said.
Yet Barnier also appeared to leave the door open a little, saying there were “possible options” for further talks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “we still have time to negotiate” on Brexit, but that the next move belonged to May. Assuming the prime minister survives Wednesday’s vote, she has until Monday to present a Plan B.
So far, May has not indicated what that Plan B might involve.
However, one scenario she is trying to avoid is leaving the EU without a deal. If nothing gets agreed to before March 29, that is precisely what will take place.
The majority of analysts and political scientists predict that if that happens, it will significantly harm Britain’s economy. The Bank of England warned it could plunge Britain into its deepest recession in nearly a century. Three million EU nationals who live in Britain under EU “freedom of movement” laws and 1.3 million Britons who do the same in other EU nations would become illegal overnight. Long-standing EU legislation covering health, travel, security, trade and more would no longer apply.
But Britain would still get what it voted for: a departure from the EU.
Only May’s resignation, a general election or a second national referendum on Brexit – all still possible if unlikely at this point – would stand a chance of reversing Brexit.
“The time for little games is now over,” Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday, speaking on Deutschlandfunk radio.
Britain and the EU “need a solution” and “we need it quickly,” he added.
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