Brexit: Where We Now Stand

Jack Manning
  • Yesterday the UK parliament voted down Theresa May’s revised Brexit deal.
  • Today MPs will be asked whether or not to rule out a No Deal Brexit.
  • If no deal is ruled out, as is likely to occur, MPs will be asked on Thursday whether to extend Article 50 – meaning the UK will not leave the EU on the previously established March 29 date.

After hours of debate yesterday, the House of Commons voted down Theresa May’s revised Brexit deal by a majority of 149. The deal, made up of provisions for the protection of EU citizens’ rights, a joint declaration on how Britain and the EU would have traded following Brexit, and a Northern Irish backstop mechanism, was crushed because of animosity from both sides of the Brexit argument.

Why was the deal defeated by Parliament?
The backstop meant Northern Ireland would remain in the European Single Market and Customs Union until a Free Trade Agreement with the EU was hammered out (which likely wouldn’t be finalised until the latter part of 2020). This was to prevent a hard border between it and the Republic of Ireland. Treating Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK was inadmissible to myriad MPs, and – despite repeated legal assurances from Theresa May and the European Union regarding the backstop’s impermanence – this is what effectively torpedoed the prime minister’s deal.

Who is arguing what?
Brexit has caused a constitutional crisis in the UK and upended its conventional party politics. 75 members of Mrs May’s Conservatives rebelled and voted against her deal. Given the vast array of views on how to proceed (or not) with Brexit, there is hardly a majority on anything. Instead, Parliament has fragmented into warring ideological cliques.
There is the Brexit-backing Jacob Rees-Mogg led European Research Group (ERG). These sixty or so Conservative MPs believe the economy-racking impact of a no deal Brexit to be more palatable than extending Article 50. Self-proclaimed hardline brexiteers, Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and others argue that no deal is the best path forward and that any delay to Brexit would result in a political calamity.

Opposing this faction is The Independence Group, made up mostly of Labour defectors, who staunchly advocate for a second referendum. They join the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and a portion of the Labour party that urge Westminster leadership to pursue the organisation of a new referendum. This ballot may not be a simple in/out replica of the first – instead it could offer three choices: Leave with a deal, Leave with no deal, or Remain. Theresa May has repeatedly refuted this intensifying movement for a second referendum, declaring it to be a betrayal of the mandate enacted by the 2016 Brexit vote.

What’s next?
Today divided MPs will vote on whether or not to leave the European Union on March 29 with no deal. This would likely mean the introduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, given that the UK will have exited the European free trade area. The Irish government has repudiated the notion of allowing a hard border of any sort.

If parliament rejects leaving the EU without a deal, as is widely anticipated, they will be asked to vote this Thursday on whether or not to delay their departure (by extending Article 50), currently scheduled for March 29. An extension of Article 50 is the most likely scenario, but what follows such an extension is difficult to predict. This is dependent too on how long of an extension Theresa May’s Conservatives opt to seek.

The EU would likely wish to limit the extension to about two months, so as not to require the UK to vote in the European elections in late May. Whether this would be a long enough period to stage a general election, a second referendum, or (perhaps least likely of all) to cobble together a deal that can command the support of a majority in parliament remains to be seen. As all are aware at this point, the only thing certain about Brexit is uncertainty.

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