British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered the worst defeat for almost a century in the British parliament Tuesday when members of parliament (MPs) rejected the deal she brokered for leaving the European Union (EU).
Conservative party leaders had braced themselves for a defeat, but the 432-202 vote with a wide margin of 230 showed May still has a mountain to climb. Around 118 Conservative MPs voted against May. The defeat has created mounting uncertainty over the politics and economy in the country and even the world at large. Within minutes of Speaker John Bercow announcing the result, May told MPs that the government would pave the way for a debate Wednesday to decide if the parliament still had confidence in her government. Main opposition Labor party leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a motion of no confidence, with a debate scheduled for Wednesday to decide whether May’s government will collapse. “This is a political crisis, a parliamentary crisis, a popular crisis, a crisis of government perhaps and a crisis of the UK as a political entity,” Anthony Glees, political expert from the University of Buckingham, told Xinhua.
Most politicians expected May to lose, but by a much smaller margin. The big stumbling block for many was the risk of Britain being permanently linked to the EU because of a requirement by Brussels that an arrangement had to be put in place to prevent an EU land border between Ireland and British-controlled Northern Ireland. Although assurances had been given by Brussels that it did not want to introduce the backstop, British politicians, especially those in Northern Ireland, demanded a legally enforceable guarantee that it would never happen. The EU refused to budge on the issue, offering only words but not the cast-iron legally watertight guarantee. “Every day that passes without this issue being resolved means more uncertainty, more bitterness and more rancour,” said May, reacting to the huge government loss.
If May loses Wednesday’s confidence vote, it could lead to Queen Elizabeth dissolving parliament and the calling of a snap general election. That would throw the Brexit timetable, with Britain due to end its membership of the EU on March 29, into chaos. It could also lead to Corbyn being handed the keys to 10 Downing Street as a Labor prime minister. If she survives, May is expected to hold talks with other political parties to determine whether an alternative Brexit deal can be reached. She would also discuss the crisis with EU officials in Brussels. The result of the confidence vote will determine the next moves, either a general election or May bidding for a deal that could win in the British parliament, or even May resigning or being ousted as prime minister.
If May survives the confidence vote she will return to the House of Commons on Monday with her plan B. Experts had doubts about May’s future, and were not optimistic about an alternative Brexit deal.
Glees believed the vote makes a postponement of article 50 countdown timetable more likely, and makes a second EU membership referendum a stronger possibility. “The EU may improve the deal so we get another vote soon. It is difficult to see any other proposal getting a majority in the House of Commons. Failing a better EU offer, the default outcome is no deal. This looks most likely,” predicted Patrick Minford, one-time advisor to Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and a macroeconomist at Cardiff Business School.
Global economy responded immediately to the mounting uncertainty resulted from the rejection of the Brexit deal. Tokyo stocks opened lower Wednesday as investors opted to secure profits made from recent gains amid ongoing uncertainty surrounding the Brexit deal. The pound had fallen more than 1 percent against the dollar immediately after the rejection of the deal on Tuesday and pared some of the losses later as investors saw trimmed possibility of a hard Brexit. However, many analysts still believed that the rejection of the deal would mean more uncertainties to come, which will lead to volatility of the currency. Britain’s business community reacted to the vote with dismay, fearing it could lead to Britain leaving the EU with no deal.
Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses said many of its members would struggle to survive should deadlock in parliament lead to the country crashing out of the EU. Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said “every business will tonight feel no deal is hurtling closer. A new plan is needed immediately.” The EU has also been carefully monitoring what will happen in London. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, believed the rejected deal is a fair compromise and the best possible deal, warning that “time is almost up” and urging the Britain to “clarify its intentions as soon as possible.”
Each member state of the EU will continue preparations for the worst variant of Brexit, Romanian Minister for European Affairs George Ciamba told local media late Tuesday after the rejection. “Romania, as the country holding the presidency of the EU Council, is making an appeal and wishes to continue to express the unity of the 27 members,” he said, adding that “at this moment we need to see what will happen tomorrow, it is about the motion of no confidence.” While showing respect for the result of the vote, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday evening that the British parliament’s rejection of the Brexit deal does not mean a no-deal situation and that “the next step is up to the UK.”
The result of the vote gave May a massive mandate to go back to Brussels and renegotiate a new deal, said Boris Johnson, former British foreign secretary and ex-Mayor of London. Alan Wager, research associate at The UK in a Changing Europe at King’s College London, told Xinhua after the vote that a no-deal Brexit, which will have catastrophic consequences, has become more likely following the vote. “It seems almost certain that her deal which she has spent the last two and a half years negotiating is now dead in the water,” he said.