Rufus Coombe | UK
Theresa May lost the vote on her Brexit deal this week with 202 votes in favor and 432 against. This is the largest commons defeat for a government since 1924, with 118 of Theresa May’s own MPs voting against her. Britain’s future relationship with Europe is once again uncertain but one thing is now clear: May’s deal is dead. There are three popular alternatives which we may see in the coming months.
The 585-page agreement, which Theresa May brought back from Brussels, received criticism for being both too ‘hard’ and too ‘soft’ a deal from both sides. A soft Brexit maintains many ties with the EU, whereas a hard Brexit severs many.
The Failed Brexit Deal of Theresa May
A sticking point in the deal for both remainers and leavers alike was the proposed Irish backstop. This is a plan to keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland open at all costs. However, to do this the deal proposed to have EU law bind all of Ireland. Instead, there would be a border between Northern Ireland and the UK. This would effectively force the UK to split and create a border within its own territory.
The deal also included a £39 Billion payout to the EU (roughly the defense budget for a year). The deal asserted that Britain would keep ‘equivalent standards’ to the EU on employment, regulation, and the environment. This means that Britain would not be able to compete with the EU by becoming a tax haven. Many ardent leavers see this as a breach of sovereignty.
Additionally, the backstop agreement does not allow the UK to leave unilaterally. Rather, they must remain in the EU until the EU gives them permission to leave. This means that EU nations could hold the government to ransom. It seems difficult to negotiate a fair deal when the EU has huge power over our land. One Conservative MP repeated the apt proverb: “You cannot reason with a tiger with your head in its mouth”.
Others opposed the deal as they said it went too far. For example, it included taking Britain out of the single market and customs union. The government also acknowledged that it would make Britain worse off.
Britain leaves Europe, with or without a deal, on the 29th of March, 2019. The questions thus become: who will try to obstruct Brexit in the next few months? How successful will their operations be? There are many rival factions within Parliament but the main three are the following:
A Second Referendum
Around 125 Members of Parliament from all sides of the house support this notion. It would involve another vote by the British people. It is a position that almost exclusively remainers support. As a result, many see it as an attempt to reverse the previous vote. Most Conservatives and the leadership of the Labour Party strongly oppose this. It would mean that Britain would have the option to go back to the EU.
A No-deal Brexit
Not a single MP supports this publicly as a first option. However, fervent Brexit supporters would support a no-deal over delaying the leave. These individuals are small in number but nonetheless very vocal. The government has refused to rule out a no deal Brexit.
Experts predict that a no-deal scenario would be disastrous for the economy. Thus, businesses and Parliament alike widely oppose the plan. Its supporters are often dismissed as zealots and ‘extremists’. Despite this, do not underestimate the possibility of it occurring. This is the default position on the 29th of March if Parliament has not ratified a deal.
A Norway Option
Currently, Norway is not a member-state of the EU, but the two groups have close ties. Some in Britain believe that the best way forward is to adopt a similar policy.
This would include the negotiation of a new deal which would keep Britain in the customs union and single market. It would also mean that EU rules and regulations would apply to Britain. However, much like Norway, the country would not have control over the creation of these rules.
Britain would also be unable to set its own immigration policy. It is possible that a majority of Parliament could support this notion, but negotiations would likely delay Brexit, which the government opposes. It would end up being popular in Parliament but not with the people. Brexit supporters may see it as a sell-out. On the contrary, remainers might consider it a waste of time and still fight for a second referendum. The division between these two factions will probably appear soon.
The Most Likely Scenario
The MPs who threw themselves behind Theresa May will now have to find a new option. Many will stick to the party line, which indicates that no-deal may be possible. With the gridlock in Parliament, we may find ourselves walking into a no-deal Brexit.
The next important vote in Parliament will probably be an attempt to rule out a no-deal or an attempt to delay Brexit. If the conservatives can hold the line on these votes, then no-deal becomes much more likely. If the government loses these votes, we will likely get a deal ‘softer’ than the one the house just rejected. It is unlikely that there will be another referendum unless the Labour Party changes its position.
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