By Prarthana Mitra
Pressure on British Prime Minister Theresa May mounts, as the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration faces opposition from the country’s lawmakers, with over 100 members of her own party, have registered their opposition. after months of negotiations in Brussels.
As the British Parliament prepares to take the final call on the agreement, the direction of the ongoing debate shows that the government will soon have to accept the need for an alternative approach beyond the no-deal Brexit and the existing divorce deal.
What’s happening at the Parliament?
After three of the five days of debate, over the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, May’s chances of cobbling together a majority vote in favour of the existing deal is slimmer than ever.
Among significant developments, motions and theories discusssed on the floor, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell of Labour Party’s comments ring the loudet. According to him, under the current government’s deal, every region, sector and household of the UK will suffer. Questions about full regulatory convergence and the controversial Northern Ireland backstop measure were raised.
The UK supreme court later announced that it will not deliver its judgement on the legality of Scottish and Welsh government’s emergency Brexit legislation, until after MPs cast their crucial vote on May’s deal next week.
Suspend Brexit: Third option emerges
The biggest blow to May’s deal was delivered by the European Court of Justice, which is being viewed as a lifeline by man. The ECJ at its meeting in Luxembour said that it is likely to rule that Britain may unilaterally suspend the exit process from the EU without consulting other members—or the ECJ itself. On Tuesday ECJ advocate general, Campos Sánchez-Bordona, formally submitted the legal opinion that any EU member state had the right to unilaterally suspend Article 50—the clause in the European Constitution that covers exiting the EU.
That undermines Prime Minister Theresa May’s argument that members of Parliament face a choice between the deal she had negotiated with Brussels or an economically disastrous no-deal exit. A third option, to push back the March 29 deadline for Britain’s departure to allow time for more talks or a second referendum emerges. “If the Commons won’t back her deal, then maybe the country will,” political editor James Forsyth wrote last week.
Another potential measure reportedly being floated as a way to win over would-be rebels is a “parliamentary lock” which would give MPs a vote before the Northern Irish backstop is implemented.
Final call reserved for Parliament
The same day, the Parliament backed a motion to give lawmakers control over the endgame of the Brexit process. Should May fail to achieve a majority for her exit deal, which looks likely due to opposition from both hardcore Brexit purists and Labour opposition who want to remain in the EU, the Parliament will have the final word on what happens next. Lawmakers voted 321 votes to 299 to insist that Parliament, not the government, must have the final say on Brexit.
May’s Brexit woes continued as the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up her administration, stepped up opposition to the divorce deal. DUP made it clear it would not support the Government in a confidence motion if her deal survives. At the end of the first day of parliamentary debate, significant numbers of usually loyal Conservative MPs deserted May to vote against the government no fewer than three times.
DUP’s Nigel Dodds, however, claimed at an interview with BBC, “I don’t think a general election at this stage is in the interests of the country. I don’t think a second referendum is either,” adding, “I think Parliament has been given its instructions by the people of the UK as a whole to get on with Brexit.”
He said that nobody wanted a no-deal Brexit but time had been wasted by the Prime Minister “going down a path that she must have known weeks ago couldn’t command a majority in Parliament”.
For the inbetweeners
The Brexit department on Thursday also published a paper laying down what the government would do to protect the rights of EU nationals in the UK and British citizens in the EU in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This includes access to healthcare, education, benefits, and housing. We recognise that these would be an important part of a transition back to life in the UK, the document stated.
The way forward
The likelihood of defeat, and the further damage that will do to May’s fragile authority, has led to some Cabinet ministers suggesting the vote should be postponed, The Times reported. Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reported that Brussels would be willing to discuss extending Article 50 – delaying Brexit until after March 29 2019 – if the deal is rejected by MPs. Meanwhile, the ministers were “looking at all options to secure the vote”.
Whether Britain turned against Brexit next week remains to be seen, but according to one member of the European Parliament from the Scottish Nationalist Party, “We now have a road map out of the Brexit shambles…A bright light has switched on above an exit sign.”
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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