Brexit at a crossroads: May puts her deal to 'last chance' vote in parliament

Prime Minister Theresa May was putting a stripped-down version of her twice-defeated Brexit divorce deal to a vote in parliament on Friday, in an attempt to break the impasse over the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union.

Published : 29 March 2019, 01:08 PM
Updated : 29 March 2019, 02:40 PM

The vote, on the day the country was originally due to exit the European Union, illustrates the depth of the three-year Brexit crisis that has left it uncertain how, when or even if the United Kingdom will ever leave.

Lawmakers vote at 1430 GMT on May's 585-page Withdrawal Agreement at a special sitting, but not on the 26-page Political Declaration on future relations, a manoeuvre to get around a ban on repeatedly putting the same submission to a vote.

May said the vote was the last opportunity to ensure Brexit would take place and cautioned that, if the deal failed, any further delay to Brexit would probably be a long one beyond April 12.

"There are those who will say: 'The House has rejected every option so far, you'll probably lose so why bother?' I bother because this is the last opportunity to guarantee Brexit," May told the House of Commons.

"If we do not vote for this motion today, people will ask: 'Why did you not vote for Brexit?'"

A man delivers flowers for Theresa May, outside Downing Street in London, Britain March 29, 2019. Reuters

May on Wednesday pledged to quit if her deal was passed and while the sacrifice of her own premiership failed to immediately give her the numbers, there was speculation on Friday that she may have won over greater numbers of detractors.

May's former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, who had opposed the deal, said he would now vote for it.

The uncertainty around Brexit, the United Kingdom's most significant political and economic move since World War Two, has left allies and investors aghast.

The volatility of the crisis is such that some major investors have stepped away from sterling markets, fatigued by the daily whiplash. The pound gained on growing hopes of support for the deal.

As May tries to salvage her deal and some lawmakers try to grab control of the process, thousands of Brexit supporters were due to protest in central London with a "Brexit Betrayal" march led by campaigner Nigel Farage which ends outside parliament.

An EU flag is waved by an anti-Brexit protester looking over a pro-Brexit March to Leave demonstration as it walks along the River Thames, in London, Britain March 29, 2019. Reuters


May's deal, agreed with the EU in November, was rejected by 230 votes on Jan. 15 and by 149 votes on March 12 so she needs to bring at least 75 lawmakers over, while losing none, to get it over the line.

To win the vote, May must bring on side dozens of Brexit-supporting lawmakers in her own party and more than 20 Labour Party lawmakers.

If May wins the vote, it would mark a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of a premiership that has been riven by one of the deepest political crises in modern British history. If the deal is rejected again, her entire Brexit strategy would have failed.

Britain would then have to either leave the EU on April 12 without a deal or come up with some interim plan, possibly a longer delay, by that date and then ask the EU to agree to it. Lawmakers will try to forge a consensus themselves for some other Brexit strategy on Monday.

A close loss would underscore the deadlock that has paralysed British politics since the 2016 Brexit vote. It is unclear if May has the political capital left to try her deal a fourth time.

If the government wins the vote, it believes it will have satisfied the conditions set by the EU in order to delay Britain's exit from the bloc until May 22. However, the result will not meet the criteria in British law for the exit package to be formally ratified.

"Today, it's the responsibility of ever member of the UK parliament to tell us what they want for the future relationship of their country with the EU," Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said in Warsaw.

The 2016 referendum revealed a United Kingdom divided over much more than EU membership, and has provoked impassioned debate about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and what it means to be British.

Opponents fear Brexit will make Britain poorer and divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional US presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China.

Supporters of Brexit say while the divorce might bring some short-term instability, in the longer term it will allow the United Kingdom to thrive if cut free from what they cast as a doomed attempt in European unity.

Far-right activists such as Stephen Lennon, who is known as Tommy Robinson, are due to speak at a separate meeting being cast as "a make Brexit happen" rally. Hundreds of thousands of people opposed to Brexit marched through London on Saturday.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher