Britain’s Parliament has dealt a major blow to Prime Minister Theresa May, resoundingly rejecting her Brexit deal just 17 days before the U.K. is due to leave the bloc. (March 12)
LONDON – British lawmakers face a new Brexit test Wednesday as they vote on whether the country should leave the European Union without a formal exit deal.
Britain’s Parliament rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement with the EU for the second time in as many months late Tuesday in a move that dramatically increased political and business uncertainty over what happens next.
A “no deal” Brexit, according to analysts and political scientists could lead to chaos at ports, grounded flights, traffic jams and food shortages. Buckingham Palace has re-purposed a Cold War-era emergency escape plan for Queen Elizabeth II in the event this default EU-divorce position causes social unrest or other disturbances.
Lawmakers will be given an option Wednesday to back leaving the EU in less than three weeks without an agreement, but because they are likely to reject it an additional vote has been scheduled for Thursday when they could choose to delay Brexit.
However, if Britain decides it wants to delay Brexit it would still need to seek approval from an EU that has grown increasingly frustrated with Britain’s inability to speak with a unified voice over the terms of its exit from the bloc. The EU has demanded “credible justification” before it would grant any request to delay Brexit.
“I don’t see reason to give any extension if first of all we don’t know what the majority position is of the House of Commons,” Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit official, said Wednesday. “We are waiting now for a proposal from London. It is now in London that they have to find a way out of this and break the deadlock.”
Still, if the “no deal” option is voted down Wednesday, and Thursday’s vote does not lead to a delay approved by the EU, then Britain will still depart the EU on March 29 without a deal because that is the default position under current legislation.
The British government sought to reassure industry leaders Wednesday by publishing details of its contingency plans under a “no deal” scenario. These include cutting tariffs on a range of agricultural imports from outside the EU and measures to avoid a “hard border” between Britain’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
Investors have been closely watching Brexit, which has caused volatility for the value of the British pound, although they appeared to shrug off the latest developments.
Britain’s benchmark FTSE 100 index traded flat on Wednesday.
Dominic Grieve, Britain’s former attorney general and a supporter of staying in the EU from May’s ruling Conservative Party, told BBC radio that crashing out of the bloc without a deal would be an “absolute catastrophe.” Grieve, who has advocated for a second public vote on whether Britain should leave the EU, has previously warned that a “no deal” Brexit could force the nation to declare a “state of emergency.”
“Politicians have spectacularly failed,” said Nigel Green, the chief executive of deVere GroupGroup, a London-based financial consultancy. “Allowing the public to vote and giving them a final say is quite simply the only credible solution now available.”
For many British lawmakers one of the chief stumbling blocks of May’s EU deal relates to the status of Northern Ireland’s border with Ireland.
EU-facilitated friction-less trade and travel across this border is viewed as a key cog in ensuring peace between Northern Ireland’s Irish Catholic community and its British Protestant one. It underpins the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 peace deal between the British and Irish governments and political parties in Northern Ireland.
May has negotiated with the EU a mechanism, known as the “backstop,” to safeguard this open border. But supporters of Brexit fear it could be used to bind the country to EU regulations indefinitely, thus significantly watering down its exit from the bloc.
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