In less than two months, the United Kingdom’s prime minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan has suffered a second setback. Her Brexit deal was voted upon and defeated roundly by the UK Parliament on Tuesday. The scale of the loss (391 votes against her deal, 242 in favour) was smaller than the January vote (432 votes against, 202 in favour). This time around, Ms May was hoping for a better result thanks to a last minute legal concession she had secured from the European Union (EU). The EU could not, under the new terms, continue to apply the Irish backstop indefinitely without the UK reserving the right to legal redress.
The Irish backstop is an arrangement to avoid a hard border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, which continues to be a member of the EU. If there is no trade deal during the transition period after Brexit is triggered, the backstop would kick into action and keep Northern Ireland in a single customs territory with the EU. This, many pro-Brexiteers argue, militates against the entire idea of Brexit in the first place. The EU’s latest concession has not been able to convert enough sceptics. This newspaper has previously noted that only two of the following three can be achieved: no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; a clean Brexit; and the sanctity of the EU’s single market.
What will happen next? To begin with, a vote on a “no deal” Brexit in Parliament on Wednesday. Exiting the EU without a deal could be chaotic and disorderly for both businesses and citizens. If Parliament rejects no deal, all other options will be back on the table. Ms May may choose to go back to the EU demanding more concessions. The EU has pretty much made it clear that no further concessions are possible. The Labour party is demanding a fresh election. There are demands for a second Brexit referendum from different quarters. The biggest question right now is whether the UK will move to postpone the Brexit date of March 29? If yes, to what avail?