EU leaders recently voted in support of Theresa May’s Brexit deal, but there’s still a long way to go until the government is home and dry. So, what are the next steps for Brexit?
It is expected that parliament will vote on whether or not to accept May’s proposed Brexit deal on the 11th December, which is only a little over a full working week before parliament is due to break for winter recess. This ‘final say’ for MPs on the withdrawal agreement was granted by a High Court ruling back in November 2016, following the tireless campaigning of Gina Miller. The premise of this ruling was that parliament should be consulted for their vote before the government is able to go ahead with implementing their exit plan. But it seems that no one expected the final deal to take this long to agree upon.
We now stand at 20 months since Article 50 was triggered, and time is running out. EU leaders have dismissed the possibility of yet re-negotiating the draft agreement that will be put before the House of Commons. Angela Merkel recently made it clear that with the deal currently on the table there is ‘no question’ of re-opening talks. In any case, it certainly seems that there would not be time to re-enter lengthy and complex negotiations with any hope of successfully meeting the March 2019 leave date.
So, whilst the High Court ruling aimed at endowing MPs with the option of making a request for amendments to be made to the existing agreement, it seems now that given the tight time frames, the Commons vote is really a vote for ‘deal or no deal’. But what would it mean if the deal doesn’t win parliamentary approval? It’s a good question, and it seems that no one has a complete and compelling answer. The possible outcomes include a People’s Vote (i.e. another referendum), a general election (God help us all), or exiting the EU without a deal (*screams into the void*).
Hard-line Brexiteers favour a no-deal outcome over May’s negotiated terms, so they will be almost certain to vote her deal down. Some fervent Remainers are holding out for a People’s Vote, and are likely to vote against May’s Brexit deal so that this option might be realised. However, it is possible that some conflicted MPs who prefer a Soft Brexit might support the deal whilst not particularly endorsing it, as they see this as a lower risk factor than potentially plunging the country into the turmoil of the no-deal scenario.
The Guardian recently published some research results, which predict how MPs will vote. Based on this, it looks like May will fall short of the majority that she needs. Some MPs have taken to social media to speak about how they are feeling.
“Theresa May has two choices. Resign and leave in disgrace or stay and put it to the people in an election or a referendum on her deal.”
David Lammey, Labour MP for Tottenham and former minister, has been continuously vocal in his support of a People’s Vote; a final say on the Brexit deal for the British public. This week, he tweeted; “May has two choices on the 12th of December, the day after her deal is voted down. Resign and leave in disgrace or stay and put it to the people in an election or a referendum on her deal.”
Dr Phillip Lee, who recently resigned his position as Justice Minister over May’s Brexit proposal, tweeted following May’s open letter to the British people on Sunday; “If this is the Leave the British people want and were promised in 2016, of course I will #BackTheBrexitDeal. But that’s not just a very big if – it’s a complete unknown. That’s why we’ve got to ask them before going ahead.”
Other Conservative MPs are also vocally stating their intentions to vote against party lines. Sarah Wollaston, Member of Parliament for the constituency of Totnes, and Chair of the Liaison Committee, has recently spoken out. “We’re saying to Mrs. May, ‘You must take this back in a second vote and we won’t support it unless you have got valid consent from the public.’ I certainly won’t support it unless Mrs. May agrees to a second referendum and I think that there are many colleagues who feel the same.”
Senior business figures are also rallying around a People’s Vote. Deborah Meaden has spoken of how damaging May’s Brexit will be for businesses and consumers alike, calling May’s deal out as “potentially, an asteroid headed for our supply chains, our ability to recruit talent, our export markets and our access to finance”.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a video interview that the whilst the deal was the best that could be achieved given the circumstances, he would be ‘deeply sad’ if he were a British citizen, echoing the disenfranchisement felt by many.
One thing seems certain; however the House of Commons vote on May’s deal, we can expect some further upheaval for quite a while to come. Tim Farron, previous Liberal Democrats leader, summed up the state of affairs back in 2016; “the British people voted for a departure but not for a destination”. It seems that at this point, the destination is still unknown.
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