Sunday

16th Jun 2019

UK parliament rejects May's Brexit deal in historic defeat

UK lawmakers on Tuesday night (15 January) voted down the Brexit withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU over Britain's departure from the bloc in March, in a historic defeat that will define Britain's future for decades.

The House of Commons rejected the deal by 432 votes to 202, a massive defeat by 230 votes - believed to be the biggest government defeat in recent British political history.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn immediately called for a vote of no-confidence in the government that will be debated, and most likely voted on, in parliament on Wednesday.

Corbyn called the vote "greatest defeat for a government since the 1920s".

British prime minister Theresa May said she heard the MPs' message, but said that the parliament's vote "tells nothing about what it does support. Nothing about how, if even, it intends to honour the British people's decision," May said.

May said if she survived the no-confidence vote, she will hold talks with the other parties to see what solution might be acceptable and that she will then go back - again - to the EU to consider new plans.

Even though 118 Tories voted against the government, May's Conservatives are unlikely to support toppling their own prime minister. May has just survived an internal no-confidence vote within her party in December.

In her speech to MPs on Tuesday evening before the vote, May warned MPs that they risked deepening the disunity, security and long-term economic partnership with the EU if they voted down the deal.

She also warned that a no-deal Brexit would damage Britain and that a second referendum would drive the British people further apart.

Before the vote, Corbyn had already called for a general election. He argued that elections would give a new government a mandate that would the break the deadlock in Brexit talks.

May said that would only serve Labour, and that after any election, the choices facing the country would remain the same.

Corbyn said renegotiations cannot be ruled out if MPs reject the current deal. In a message directed at Brussels, he said: "If parliament votes down this deal, then reopening negotiations should not, and cannot, be ruled out."

The EU had earlier ruled out any more talks.

Juncker returns

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker returned to Brussels from Strasbourg on Tuesday evening, from the European Parliament's plenary meeting where a Brexit debate is scheduled to take place Wednesday morning, to deal with the fallout from the Brexit vote.

In a statement after the vote, Juncker said that he "takes note with regret" of the outcome.

"The withdrawal agreement is a fair compromise and the best possible deal. […] It is the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union," Juncker said, adding that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit increased and preparations for that continue.

"I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up," Juncker warned.

EU Council chief Donald Tusk tweeted seconds after the vote: "If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?"

What happens next?

In the wake of the catastrophic defeat for May, the EU will wait for the British PM to interpret the result and decide what to do next. There are a handful of options, but none of them are appealing to the UK government.

One possibility for the UK is to ask for an extension of talks with the EU beyond the 29 March Brexit cut-off date.

The EU-27 have to agree unanimously to grant a period for further discussion with London.

In Brussels, diplomats say that is likely to be granted if there is a change in London's strategy.

But if the request is just to spend more time asking for assurances from the EU that the bloc has already said it will not give, the EU-27 might be more reluctant to give more than a few months more to May.

An extension would not mean that the EU is ready to open up the withdrawal agreement for further discussion, particularly not the backstop. "The backstop cannot be renegotiated," said an EU official.

The EU wants to avoid being blamed for a no-deal Brexit, and an extension is unlikely to be blocked by member states. "It will be difficult to say no," said one EU diplomat.

However, the upcoming European elections cause a problem, as the UK would need to participate in the May vote if it remains, even temporarily, as a member.

That poses a question on how, and for how long, would they retain its 73 MEPs, as the parliament has already decided to reduce its numbers from 751 to 705 to reflect the UK's departure.

Some member states also fear that populist forces will use Brexit as a tool in the election campaigns, claiming it 'proves' the EU is a federalist super-state that will not let its members leave.

May could also decide to travel back to Brussels and seek concessions if she survived the no-confidence vote. EU leaders have said repeatedly, however, that the withdrawal agreement cannot be renegotiated with Brexit day only two-and-a-half months away.

May could even revoke, unilaterally, Article 50 and the entire Brexit procedure, doing a complete U-turn.

The European Court of Justice recently ruled, contrary to the legal opinion of the commission and council, that the member states initiating Article 50, the withdrawal procedure, can also unilaterally withdraw it.

With Tuesday's vote, the likelihood of a no-deal Brexit increased again. Preparations have been underway at both member state and EU-level to deal with the issues arising from that.

EU officials warn that if there is no withdrawal agreement in place with the UK, there will be little appetite among member states to quickly start the negotiations with the UK on the future relations.

Ireland may seek aid, as border issue stalls Brexit deal

With the Brexit deal awaiting a vote in the British parliament, Theresa May is seeking further assurances from EU leaders - and Irish minister talks of emergency aid for Dublin to deal with a no-deal scenario.

No more Brexit talks, despite May's pleas

EU leaders said they can do no more than reassure the UK they do not want to trap it over Ireland, but May might need more than that to get the Brexit deal through parliament.

EU-27 unimpressed by May, offer little on Brexit

British PM asked for a legally binding guarantee on the backstop and for it to end no matter what in 2021, but did not reveal a strategy on how to sell the Brexit deal to her parliament.

News in Brief

  1. EU plans to restructure eurozone bonds
  2. EU ups US imports in beef deal
  3. Unicef: UK among 'least family-friendly' in Europe
  4. Czech PM: No joint 'V4' candidate in commission race
  5. Johnson tops first round to replace May, three eliminated
  6. Bratislava will host new European Labour Authority
  7. Juncker cautions against further climate goals
  8. Study: Counterfeit medicine is a 'growing threat' in EU

Feature

'Swexit' off menu at election for first time in 24 years

The Swedish Left Party have abandoned euroscepticism to campaign on climate change - whilst the hard-right Sweden Democrats spy possibilities of a link up with Matteo Salvini of Italy and France's Marine Le Pen.

Opinion

Brexit vs Grexit: The six stages of losing to the EU

Theresa May's venture seems very similar to the attempt by Alexis Tsipras in 2015 to persuade Brussels to accept his terms for the bail out - a huge negotiation failure, presented to the public as the best possible deal.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. 'Russian sources' targeted EU elections with disinformation
  2. Top EU jobs summit dominates This WEEK
  3. EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit
  4. MEP blasts Portugal over football whistleblower
  5. Catalonia MEPs are a judicial, not political, issue
  6. Meet the lawyer taking the EU migration policy to the ICC
  7. Europe's oil supplies 'at risk' after tanker attacks
  8. EU paths fork for Albania and North Macedonia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us