What Theresa May’s postponed Brexit vote means for the future of the deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May called off Tuesday’s crucial Parliamentary vote on her Brexit divorce deal so that she can go back to Brussels and renegotiate. Members of the British Parliament are expected to return to vote on it before January 21.

Why did May postpone the vote?

After months of May insisting the vote would go ahead, and coaxing the naysayers to choose the only alternative to a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum, Brexit has now reached the ultimate impasse. Noting the scale and strength of opposition from MPs from both sides, May admitted on Monday that the deal as it now stands, “would be rejected by a significant margin” if voted upon.

When will the MPs vote next?

May broke the news many have been expecting for a long time, refusing to announce the new date when the House of Commons’ vote would be held. She has affixed the tentative final deadline for the vote on January 21, citing dependence on the duration of the fresh talks with EU. Adding that the UK’s departure date from the EU on March 29 was written into law, she assured that the government was “committed” to delivering on it.

What did the EU say?

The European Union has categorically refused to make any changes to the existing agreement that has been carved out after months of talks. While May is confident of getting “reassurances” from the EU on the Northern Ireland border plan, European Council President Donald Tusk is of a different opinion. None of the 27 EU member nations were ready to “renegotiate” the deal, he said, adding that the controversial Northern Irish backstop, which the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and many Tories want removed, would remain in place.

EU leaders would rather “discuss how to facilitate UK ratification” of the withdrawal agreement at Thursday’s summit in Brussels, Tusk suggested. The European Court of Justice also ruled that the UK can cancel Brexit if it wants.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday morning that there is “no room whatsoever left for Brexit deal negotiation,” sentiments that were later echoed by Irish PM Leo Varadkar.

Here’s where the current deal falters

Caught between opponents and her own party’s hardline demands, May’s draft agreement had the initial backing of her cabinet, which she believed was a “decisive step” that would enable UK to move on.

May, who came to power in the aftermath of the divisive referendum on the deal, has struggled ever since to strike a balance between ensuring Britain’s commercial interests that are bound to suffer as a result of Brexit, and appeasing pro-Brexit lawmakers who would eventually bring the accord into motion.

Settling for the middle ground by going forward with the divorce while preserving the closest possible ties with EU, May’s compromise plan has upset Brexiteers, pro-Europeans, Scottish nationalists, and few of her own government officials.

The growing scepticism and disgruntlement among many Brexit-supporters in Theresa May’s own party came from those who believe that she had given in to too many demands of the EU. Vowing that they would veto the deal on the floor of the cabinet and the parliament, some of them have raised their voice against May’s surrender to other European powers.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson categorically said that May had sold out the United Kingdom and that he would oppose the “unacceptable accord”. Meanwhile, the Labour party has vehemently opposed any deal that does not grant the same economic privileges Britain enjoys by virtue of the membership.

Moreover, Ireland, which will remain a part of the EU after Brexit, agreed to a backstop or an insurance policy to avoid a return to controls on the border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland in case of trade relations in the future. The “backstop” is aimed at preventing a “hard” border between Ireland and Northern Ireland which the Tories want to avoid.

What will happen next?

While many are viewing the deferment as the first step to a second referendum which could scrap Brexit once and for all, May’s move irked several lawmakers in the Commons, with MPs from all sides accusing the government of denying them a say in the matter. Even members of her own party who were previously supporters of May are sceptical about her leadership now.

Commons Speaker John Bercow said that the government’s handling of the issue had been “regrettable”. He had also called on the government to give MPs a vote on whether Tuesday’s vote should be cancelled, but his plea was rejected. Prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg said in a statement on Monday that “this is not governing, it risks putting [opposition leader from Labour Party] Jeremy Corbyn into government by failing to deliver Brexit. We cannot continue like this. The Prime Minister must either govern or quit”.

Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn claimed that May had lost control of events and complained she was “disregarding” MPs. Corbyn was also hoping to force a general election in case May lost Tuesday’s planned vote, by tabling a vote of no confidence. After the delayed vote, he urged the PM to stand down because her government was now in “chaos”.

Meanwhile, the pound dived to an 18-month low against the dollar when news of the delayed vote broke. The announcement also prompted sterling to fall to a 20-month low, causing massive uproar among Britain’s political establishment.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

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