By Susy Hodges
Britain’s political crisis has deepened after Prime Minister Theresa May’s revised EU withdrawal deal was defeated on Tuesday by a margin of 149 votes, leaving the country facing a range of scenarios just over 2 weeks from the legal date for Brexit.
In another vote today, British lawmakers are expected to reject a no-deal Brexit although it will have no legal force. May has said her party’s lawmakers can make up their own minds rather than following orders from party managers which is an unusual move for a vote on a major policy. If as expected, parliament votes to reject the no-deal option then a further vote is scheduled for Thursday on whether to ask the EU for a delay to Brexit. However, any delay is something to which all the other 27 members of the EU must agree.
The bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said the EU would need to know why Britain wanted to extend talks on Brexit. Warning that the risk of a no-deal has never been higher, he said it was now up to Britain to find a way out of the current deadlock. Barnier said the EU had gone as far as it possibly could to address lawmakers’ concerns over the Brexit deal, especially in relation to the contentious Northern Irish backstop provision. This is the insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland which is deeply unpopular with many pro-Brexit lawmakers.
Ahead of today’s parliamentary vote, the government announced that it would eliminate tariffs on a wide range of goods in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Following Tuesday’s defeat of her Brexit plan, May said lawmakers would have to decide whether they want to delay Brexit, hold another referendum or whether they want to leave the EU with a deal but not hers.
If no alternative way forward is found, the default position remains that Britain will leave the EU on March 29th . It’s a scenario that business leaders warn would bring chaos to markets and supply chains and could cause shortages of food and medicines. In the meantime, the uncertainty continues and many are wondering whether the British parliament will ever reach a consensus on how to find a way out of the current turmoil.