With just over seventy days to go before the United Kingdom’s (UK) impending withdrawal from the European Union (EU) on March 29, 2019, British Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly against the current Draft Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May’s government. With only 202 MPs voting in favour and 432 voting against the deal, the 230 margin of defeat represents the worst legislative defeat inflicted on a British Government in modern history.
The vote, termed the ‘meaningful vote’, was highly anticipated. Originally scheduled for last December, Prime Minister May had postponed the vote at the last minute in the face of overwhelming opposition to the current deal, particularly the fall-back provisions on the Northern Ireland/Ireland Border – the so-called ‘backstop’. In the interim, Mrs. May unsuccessfully sought to obtain greater concessions from the EU in order to assuage skeptics, including those in her own party. However, the EU had been adamant that the 500-page Draft Withdrawal Agreement was not open for renegotiation.
Indeed, the reaction by the EU to the outcome has been swift. In a statement released immediately thereafter, President of the EU Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, lamented that “the risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote.” President Juncker further reiterated that “the Withdrawal Agreement is a fair compromise and the best possible deal. It reduces the damage caused by Brexit for citizens and businesses across Europe. It is the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”
In her remarks after the outcome, Mrs. May lamented that the vote gave no indication of what the Parliament does support. She promised to continue her pursuit of Brexit as instructed by the British people in their referendum result of 2016. She has again ruled out a second referendum. However, her future appears to be in the balance. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has called for a general election, has immediately tabled a motion of no confidence which will be debated tomorrow. In December, Mrs. May survived a no confidence motion within her own party.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.