- With an unexpectedly large majority, MEPs reject the Brexit Treaty negotiated by London and Brussels.
- Also many conservatives refuse Prime Minister May's allegiance.
- Opposition leader Corbyn applies for a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister immediately after the announcement of the result.
- The EU regrets the outcome of the vote.
On Tuesday night, the British parliament inflicted a heavy defeat on Prime Minister Theresa May – raising the risk of a chaotic Brexit. MEPs rejected the resignation agreement by an unexpectedly large majority agreed by London and Brussels after lengthy negotiations.
432 parliamentarians voted against the agreement, only 202 for it. May's Conservatives have 317 seats; a good third of their own MEPs have refused to follow her. It is the clearest defeat a British Government has ever suffered in parliament. The European Union reacted disappointingly to the vote: "If a deal is impossible and no one wants a no-deal, who will have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?" Council President Donald Tusk asked on the short message service Twitter.
Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, head of the Labor Party, requested a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister immediately after the announcement of the outcome. MEPs will vote on this Wednesday evening. A victory for the opposition would lead to new elections. However, the success of the motion is unlikely: many Conservative rebels who reject the Withdrawal Agreement are also uninterested in new elections and will likely support May.
On March 29, the British are planning to leave the EU – after 46 years. The Brexit contract is to ensure an orderly separation. But the agreement must be approved by both the UK and the EU Parliament.
Without a valid contract, the agreed transition phase would be over, with no major changes for citizens and companies until at least the end of 2020. Instead, customs duties and customs controls would be introduced immediately. But the ports in the Kingdom and on the mainland are not prepared for customs controls, which is why chaos and congestion threatens. The constant supply for supermarkets and factories would be endangered.
Britain imports almost a third of its mainland food; Factories only stock parts for a few hours of production. For this reason, employers' associations have been urgently warning of the consequences of leaving without agreements for weeks.
May said after the defeat that Parliament had spoken, "and the government will listen". It was clear that MEPs rejected the treaty, but it was not clear what they were demanding instead. The Prime Minister announced that she would speak with representatives of all parties and explore what changes would be needed to reach Parliament's approval. That being said, the government will discuss these proposals with the EU.
"This is the most important vote of his political career for each of us"
Above all, the "backstop" in the withdrawal agreement displeases Brexit-enthusiastic dissenters from the Conservatives. This catch-up solution is designed to prevent the need for customs checks between EU Member Ireland and Northern Ireland. The Brexit champions fear that the clause could permanently hold the kingdom in close attachment to the EU. The Northern Irish party DUP rejects the agreement because of this. May has been dependent on the support of this party since the lost parliamentary elections in 2017.
To help May, just before the vote in a letter, the EU had stated in a letter that the European Union did not see the backstop as a permanent solution. The long and sometimes heated parliamentary debate on Tuesday showed that this could not convince the critics. At the same time, the discussions revealed how deep the split is among the conservatives. Former Brexit minister Dominic Raab, who resigned in protest of May's course, called the treaty the "worst possible risk" to the economy and democracy in the kingdom.
May, however, said before the vote that the contract creates planning security for the economy and at the same time fulfills the promises of the Brexit campaign. Parliament is faced with a historic decision: "It is the most important vote in our political career for each of us," she said. The alternatives to the treaty – an unregulated exit, a second referendum or new elections – would only bring uncertainty and problems. And negotiating a better deal is not possible.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker regretted the result. The risk of a disorderly exit was thus increased. One hopes to avoid this scenario, but prepares for it. The United Kingdom must now clarify its intentions as soon as possible: "The time is almost up." Finance Minister Olaf Scholz wrote on Twitter that this was "a bitter day for Europe".
May could now try to obtain from Brussels further assurances that the backstop should not be used or only for a limited time. It would also be possible to postpone the withdrawal by a few months. This would leave more time to dissolve the blockade in London.