British Prime Minister Theresa May will face a no-confidence motion on Wednesday, after her Brexit agreement suffered a historic defeat in the British Parliament. The highly contentious deal, despised by Brexit hardliners and the opposition alike, failed to pass the vote by a record margin of 432 to 202, even as the March 30 deadline to leave the European Union looms on the horizon.
Lawmakers on both sides, including 118 Conservatives, turned down the deal, leaving Britain in a precarious limbo regarding its status as an EU member, with no confirmation on the rumours that the Union would extend Britain’s membership by a few more months.
May and Corbyn’s response
Immediately after the crucial vote, May said that she would resume negotiations with the opposing lawmakers to find a common and acceptable ground. “It is clear that the House does not support this deal,” she said. “But tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support. Nothing about how — or even if — it intends to honour the decision the British people took in a referendum parliament decided to hold,” May added.
“People, particularly EU citizens who have made their home here and UK citizens living in the EU, deserve clarity on these questions as soon as possible. Those whose jobs rely on our trade with the EU need that clarity,” the PM announced, and given the urgent need to make progress, she believed it important to “focus on ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House”.
Noting the scale of her defeat, she said that the government will permit a no confidence motion to be debated, following which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn confirmed he had tabled a no confidence vote to be heard on Wednesday, for MPs to debate on the incompetence of the government.
He accused the government of failing to reach out to other parties, adding that May should accept that the UK will stay in the customs union for good, that a “no-deal Brexit” is not an option and that the rights of EU nationals will be accepted.
Moments leading up to the vote
Ahead of the vote, lawmakers were allowed to table last minute amendments to the deal, ranging from minor tweaks to major upheavals of the Brexit blueprint. It was then left to House speaker John Bercow, to select the ones which should be voted on.
Labour MP Hilary Benn’s amendment made a splash earlier in the day, as it rejected both the PM’s deal and a no-deal Brexit. He withdrew the amendment later, as did Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Amendment A), the SNP (Amendment K) and Conservative MP Edward Leigh (Amendment B). Amendment F, tabled by Conservative MP John Baron sought to give the UK the right to terminate the Irish border backstop unilaterally, without the agreement of the EU. It was rejected by a whopping 600-24.
Brexit campaigners continued to champion May’s deal calling it the first stage of negotiations that is necessary to culling out trade and other aspects of the Brexit deal later. The sentiment was echoed later in the final debate on the deal, as May sought the Parliament’s support in an address one last time, before the floor went to vote.
“This is the most significant vote that any of us will ever be part of in our political careers. After all the debate, all the disagreement, all the division, the time has now come for all of us in this House to make a decision. A decision that will define our country for decades to come,” she said, further reminding the House that they owed it to those who voted to leave two years ago. Her address made no mention of extending the deadline for negotiating Article 50 which has to do with the Irish backstop.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on MPs to vote against the Brexit deal, describing it as “botched and damaging”. “It’s not enough for the House to vote against the deal and against a no deal Brexit,” Corbyn insisted. “We have to be for something … it is vital that this House has the opportunity to debate and vote on the way forward to consider all the options available,” he said, laying the order of business for Wednesday.
Notable allies and naysayers
One of the staunchest Brexit hardliners Nigel Farage said the current deal is a betrayal of the June 2016 referendum. Farage told CNN that the British public “didn’t vote for a series of deals — they voted to Leave” the EU.
Arlene Foster, leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and supposed ally of the Conservatives, voted against the deal and its “toxic backstop”, dealing the heaviest blow to May’s beleaguered deal. However, the DUP which helps prop up May’s majority, has confirmed that it will vote for the government in the no confidence motion.
In view of the approaching deadline, however, some MPs reported they would be backing the deal, lest they should end up with no Brexit at all. Meanwhile, the call for a second referendum has never been higher. The Scottish National Party is supported by a lot of fringe parties who back the idea of a second vote, and hope that Labour gets on board with it as well. In the meantime, the SNP will support the no confidence motion.
What happens now
Immediately after the vote, the president of the European Union Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted, saying, “I take note with regret of the outcome of the vote in the @HouseofCommonsthis evening. I urge the #UK to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up.”
According to Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who talked to reporters at the European Parliement Tuesday morning, the EU could hold new talks with the UK if May’s deal is rejected. Now that it is, things look trickier for May, especially on home ground. She might consider caving to some of Labour’s demands but also risk undermining conservative MPs by doing so.
Corbyn also addressed the European Union directly saying, “If Parliament votes down this deal then reopening negotiations should not, and can not, be ruled out.”
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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