Dec 11, 2018

Delayed Brexit vote forestalls near certain defeat for May's plan

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May outside Downing Street. Photo by Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Faced with almost certain rejection, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May delayed a parliamentary vote on Monday on her plans for leaving the EU. To win over MPs, she is now seeking to amend the deal, in particular the complex arrangements concerning the future of the border between the U.K. and Ireland — the only land border between the U.K. and the rest of the EU.

The big picture: EU leaders have made clear that the 585-page withdrawal agreement cannot be changed. All May can expect is a side letter containing a legally meaningless “clarification,” which will satisfy very few, if any, MPs in London. Whenever she calls the vote, she is likely to face a heavy parliamentary defeat.

Background: The U.K. Parliament voted to leave the EU on March 29, 2019. Without a deal, the prospects for the U.K.’s — and, to some extent, the EU’s — economy will darken. The government’s own projection is that a “no deal” Brexit could provoke an economic slump of 10%.

  • A whole range of connections, developed over almost half a century, will be severed. Trade will be disrupted. Cooperation on fighting crime and terrorism (depending on shared databases) will be weakened. The U.K. will find it harder to obtain vital medicines. The future of U.K. citizens living in the EU, and EU citizens in the U.K., will be thrown into question.

What's next: The pressure to prevent a “no deal” Brexit will be intense. There are several possible paths:

  1. May might quit and be succeeded by a new prime minister who reopens talks with the EU.
  2. The government might fall, triggering a fresh general election. This looks unlikely at present, as there is no majority in Parliament to bring down the government, which could clear the way for the left-wing Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn to take power.
  3. Parliament might vote for a new referendum to ask voters whether they really want to leave the EU after all. Support for a “People’s Vote” is rising at Westminster as the least bad way out of the present crisis.

The bottom line: None of the three options can realistically be concluded by March 29. The U.K. looks certain to remain in the EU at least into the summer — and, very possibly, indefinitely.

Peter Kellner is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.

Go deeper

The new oil-cutting pact will help the market but hardly rescue it

The new OPEC-Russia agreement to steeply cut production should help the oil market avoid a complete meltdown, but it's nowhere near enough to undo the damage from the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts say.

Why it matters: It's the first major coordinated response to the pandemic that's creating an unprecedented collapse in global oil demand and has pushed prices to very low levels.

Premier League players launch fund to help U.K. medical workers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Premier League players have launched an initiative called #PlayersTogether, which will funnel part of their salaries to the National Health Service to support the U.K.'s front-line workers during the coronavirus crisis.

Why it matters: This decision came at the conclusion of a protracted argument between players, clubs and even government officials over who should bear the brunt of lost revenue in the midst of the pandemic.

GOP worries Trump has only weeks to sharpen coronavirus response

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Republicans are increasingly concerned not only about President Trump’s daily briefings but also his broader plan to ease the nation out of the virus crisis and back to work. This concern is acute — and spreading. 

Why it matters: Trump can easily address the briefing worries by doing fewer, but the lackluster bounce-back planning is what worries Republicans most.