UK MPs inflict biggest ever defeat to PM May over Brexit divorce deal

PTI
Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Corbyn described Prime Minister May's defeat "catastrophic" and said backing the "botched and damaging" deal would be a "reckless leap in the dark" for the UK.

LONDON: In a humiliating defeat for embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May, her divisive divorce deal with the European Union was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs, triggering a no-confidence motion against her government.

May's bid to get the Withdrawal Agreement, struck between London and Brussels, was rejected by 432 votes to 202 - a majority of 230, the biggest defeat ever suffered by a British premier in modern history.

Within minutes after the defeat of the Brexit deal in the House of Commons, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he has tabled a formal motion of confidence in the government, backed by other opposition leaders, which MPs would vote later on Wednesday.

Corbyn described Prime Minister May's defeat "catastrophic" and said backing the "botched and damaging" deal would be a "reckless leap in the dark" for the UK.

Britain is set to exit the 28-member European Union, which it joined in 1973, on March 29. With just over two months to go until the scheduled departure on March 29, Britain is still undecide on what to do.

May, 62, has spent two years negotiating the divorce plan aimed at bringing about an orderly Brexit and setting up a 21- month transition period to negotiate a free-trade deal with Brussels.

Her deal included both the withdrawal agreement on the terms on which the UK leaves the EU and a political declaration for the future relationship.

But it faced opposition across Parliament, from MPs who want either a further referendum, a closer relationship with Europe, to stop Brexit altogether or the UK to leave without a deal.

May, who survived a no-confidence vote by her own Conservative Party in December, has told MPs she will return to the Commons with an alternative plan next week, provided she survives the confidence vote.

"The House has spoken and this government will listen," she said on Tuesday night, offering cross-party talks to determine a way forward.

Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs does not like the prime minister's deal to withdraw from the EU, but they really hate the prospect of a Labour government under the hard-left Corbyn. Thus, British media has predicted that Prime Minister May may survive Wednesday's confidence vote.

Hardline Brexiteers and Remainers opposed the agreement for different reasons. Many feared that Britain could lock itself into an unfavourable trading relationship with the EU.

Over 100 lawmakers of May's Conservative party - both Brexiteers and Remainers - overwhelmingly voted against the deal, leading to the worst parliamentary defeat for a government in recent British history.

The crushing defeat also marks the collapse of her two-year strategy of forging an amicable divorce with close ties to the EU after the March 29 exit.

Following her defeat in the House of Commons, May said that the MPs have established what they are against but not what they are for.

"The house has spoken and the government will listen. It is clear that the house does not support this deal but tonight's vote tells us nothing what it does support.

"Nothing about how, or even if, it intends to honour the decision the British people took in a referendum Parliament decided to hold," she said.

"I ask members on all sides of the house to listen to the British people who want this matter settled and work with the government to do just that," May said.

According to the Britain's parliamentary procedure, when a bill is rejected by the MPs, the prime minister has three sitting days to return to Parliament with a Plan B.

It is expected that May would head to Brussels on Wednesday to try and secure further concessions from the EU before coming back to UK Parliament with a new proposal.

This could be put to vote by the MPs. Should this also fail, the Government would have another three weeks to come back with another alternative.

If the withdrawal agreement never gets through with Parliament, then in all likeliness the UK will crash out of the EU without a deal on March 29.

This would mean overnight EU laws and customs and the free movement of goods, services and people will cease.

European leaders reacted to Tuesday's vote with dismay but gave no indication they were willing to make concessions.

Several have warned of increased chances of a no-deal Brexit, which many MPs fear will cause chaos at ports and damage industry.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said Brussels "profoundly regrets" how the UK's MPs voted, after two years of negotiation "based on the red lines of the British government".

"It is up to the British authorities today or tomorrow to assess the outcome of this vote and up to the British Government to indicate how we are going to take things forward on March 29 to an orderly withdrawal," he said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: "I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up."

European Council President Donald Tusk has appeared to suggest that the UK should stay in the EU.

"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?", he tweeted. 

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