Jan 16, 2019

Failed deal spells uncertainty for Brexit and May's long-term survival

Political artist Kaya Mar with his painting in London, England. Photo: Jack Taylor via Getty Images

The U.K. Parliament has rejected the government’s Brexit plans, in a sweeping 432–202 vote. The development plunges U.K. politics into crisis: While there’s a clear majority against the government’s plans, there’s no evident majority in favor of a specific alternative.

Why it matters: If Parliament cannot agree on what to do next, the U.K. will by default crash out of the EU without a deal. This could do immense damage to the U.K.'s economy, potentially taking as much as a 10.7% hit to the country’s GDP.

Background: For the past 2 years, the U.K. has been negotiating an agreement on the terms of its EU departure, set for March 29 — just 10 weeks from now. Prime Minister Theresa May hoped that a majority of MPs would support her agreement so that Brexit could proceed in an orderly manner, but those hopes have now been dashed.

The government has been defeated by a coalition of opposites: around 120 MPs who want a more clear-cut, “hard” Brexit, and believe that May has compromised too much; and over 300 MPs who think Brexit is a mistake.

The margin of the government’s defeat — far greater than any previous U.K. government's on a major policy — also raises questions about May’s future. In the short term, she should survive.

  • A vote of no confidence in the government — proposed by Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn — will be debated on Wednesday, but it’s almost certain to be defeated. The one thing all Conservatives agree on is that they don’t want the general election that a successful vote would entail.
  • But in the weeks and months ahead, May’s survival is far less certain.

What’s next: May will return to Parliament next Monday, setting out her plans in the wake of her heavy defeat. She has said that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” It remains to be seen whether she will hold her ground, which would appease the 120 hard-Brexit MPs, or pivot to a softer Brexit to build a cross-party consensus.

What to watch: Whatever May does, Parliament may decide to seize control of the process and assemble a different majority — potentially one that agrees to hold a fresh referendum. The possibility that the U.K. will end up remaining in the EU can no longer be dismissed.

Peter Kellner is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.

Go deeper

America's dwindling executions

The Trump administration wants to reboot federal executions, pointing to a 16-year lapse, but Pew Research reports the government has only executed three people since 1963.

The big picture: Nearly all executions in the U.S. are done by states. Even those have been steadily dropping for two decades, per the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) — marking a downward trend for all executions in the country.

Top NSC official may be moved after "Anonymous" rumor fallout

President Trump at the Daytona 500. (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Top Trump administration officials are in discussions to reassign deputy national security adviser Victoria Coates to the Department of Energy from the National Security Council, per two sources familiar with the planning.

Why it matters: Coates' working relationship with National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, who elevated her to the deputy role only months ago, has strained amid an effort by some people inside the administration to tag her as "Anonymous" — a charge she has vehemently denied to colleagues.

Jeff Bezos commits $10 billion for climate change research

Bezos at Amazon Smbhav in New Delhi on Jan. 15. Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced the launch of his "Earth Fund" on Monday via Instagram to fund climate change research and awareness.

What he's saying: Bezos says he's initially committing $10 billion to fund "scientists, activists, and NGOS" that are working on environmental preservation and protection efforts.