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UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal was defeated in the House of Commons by a majority of 230, with 202 MPs voting in favour of May’s deal and 432 voting against. 118 Conservative MPs voted against the deal, while only 3 Labour MPs and 3 Independent MPs voted for it. Two Conservative ministerial aides, Eddie Hughes and Craig Tracey, resigned from the Government payroll in order to vote against the deal, as did Conservative Party Vice-Chair Tom Pursglove.
Speaking after the vote, May said that “It is clear that the House does not support this deal. But tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support.” She added that she will be holding meetings with the DUP and senior parliamentarians from across the House and then discussing the ideas with the European Union, if “ideas that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House” are yielded.
The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, called a no-confidence vote that will be debated in the UK Parliament today. The DUP will be supporting Theresa May in the no-confidence vote, according to the DUP spokesman. Corbyn’s spokesperson also said yesterday, “A motion of no confidence can happen more than once,” suggesting the party could repeat efforts to push for a general election.
Earlier, MPs also rejected by 600 votes to 24 an amendment brought by Conservative MP John Baron which would have given the UK the right to terminate the backstop unilaterally. The amendments to the Withdrawal bill tabled by Labour, the SNP, and the Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh were all withdrawn prior to the vote.
This came after the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, did not select any of the amendments which had tacit backing from the Government. These included an amendment from Conservative backbencher Andrew Murrison, which was backed by 30 Conservative MPs and would have added a time limit to the backstop so that it expired at the end of 2021, as well as a similar amendment from Conservative backbencher Hugo Swire. An amendment by Labour MP John Mann seeking to guarantee workers’ rights after Brexit was also not selected.
Elsewhere, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox yesterday refuted that the UK could revoke Article 50 in order temporarily to suspend Brexit negotiations, arguing the UK would have to provide “satisfactory evidence to the EU that we are cancelling our departure from the EU” in order to use revocation.
Open Europe’s Henry Newman told BBC News after the vote, “The reality is the vast majority of MPs don’t want to see No Deal happening… but the default is No Deal. The danger is that the people who love Brexit the most are now risking it, as there is a risk of losing Brexit entirely.” Newman also told LBC radio yesterday, “The difficulty now is that Brussels wants to know ‘what does Parliament want’, and this is not clear.”
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Responding to yesterday’s ‘meaningful vote’ on the Withdrawal Agreement, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote. While we do not want this to happen, the European Commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared,” adding, “I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up.”
Meanwhile, European Council President Donald Tusk responded by saying, “If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?”
Elsewhere, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier this morning told the European Parliament, “It is now up to the British authorities to agree how to take things forward towards an orderly withdrawal,” adding that the EU would be ready to discuss sectoral cooperation in spheres such as fisheries, aviation and security, if the UK decides to “go beyond a simple free trade agreement” for the future relationship.
Separately, French President Emmanuel Macron said “The pressure is mainly on [the UK],” adding, The first losers in [No Deal] would be the British.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte commented, “I regret, yet respect the result of the vote in the House of Commons on [the] current Brexit deal. The Netherlands and the EU are still behind the [Withdrawal] Agreement, but will keep preparing for all scenarios. Despite this setback, it does not mean we are in a No Deal situation. The next step is up to the UK.” The Italian Government stated Italy will “continue working with institutions and other EU member states to limit the negative consequences of Brexit.”
Mark Rutte: Twitter
The ten Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs voted against the Withdrawal Agreement last night. The party’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, said that the Prime Minister should “Go back to the EU and make it clear this deal’s not going to work,” adding “There is no point in keeping something on the table when it’s been kicked off the table, kicked out of the room.” Meanwhile, the independent Unionist MP for North Down, Lady Hermon, voted with the Government in support of the Withdrawal Agreement. Speaking in the House of Commons debate, she said that Labour’s decision to vote down the Agreement was “a clear signal that the Labour Party does not care about the consequences for the Good Friday Agreement.”
Elsewhere, the Irish Government issued a statement following the vote urging the UK “to set out how it proposes to move forward. We will then consider what next steps to take in consultation with our EU partners.” It added, “Regrettably, the outcome of tonight’s vote increases the risk of a disorderly Brexit. Consequently, the Government will continue to intensify preparations for such an outcome.”
House of Commons: Hansard
Irish Government: Merrion Street
Ahead of yesterday’s vote, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas yesterday said that “there could be further talks” between the EU and the UK after the House of Commons rejects the Withdrawal Agreement, adding, “The agreement stands, as it is. I doubt very much that the agreement can be fundamentally reopened. If there were a better solution, it would already have been put forward.” This comes as the German government has denied reports of Chancellor Angela Merkel giving extra assurances to the UK over the Irish backstop.
Elsewhere, before the meaningful vote, a French government official is quoted by EurActiv as saying that after the deal gets rejected, “It will be up to the United Kingdom to make a certain number of demands and proposals to the European Union.”
Separately, former German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel yesterday wrote, “What’s happening in London affects us all and that’s why we’re getting involved.It is primarily a political decision by the British, but has far-reaching consequences for everyone else in Europe,” adding, “Even if the vote in the House of Commons doesn’t produce a majority, that doesn’t mean that we can’t keep on negotiating up to the end of March. From the EU’s point of view, it should be possible to extend the decision deadline if the British need more time.”
Meanwhile, President of the Eurogroup, Mario Centeno, said that the UK and the EU could hold further discussions, adding, “We can open all the dossiers … We need to take informed decisions with total calm and avoid a No Deal exit. Practically anything is better than a No Deal exit.”
The Daily Telegraph
Before the vote, the Guardian reported that the Prime Minister’s EU advisor, Olly Robbins, has compiled secret contingency plans to pursue an alternative solution in the event that the Withdrawal Agreement fails to pass through the Commons. The plans are based around six possible Brexit options that would be presented to the Commons to see which would command a majority. However, it is not expected that any of these options involve reversing the Brexit process. A Downing Street source told the paper, “If we don’t win the vote tonight, we would have to make some decisions pretty quickly.”
The European Commission yesterday decided to delay plans that would end individual member states’ veto power on the introduction of a proposed tax on digital revenues. The decision to push the date to 2025 delays the deadline by five years, as the initial deadline was 2020.
Writing in The Times Red Box, Open Europe director Henry Newman argues, “Yesterday’s vote took us no closer to knowing what will actually happen next. As only one amendment was moved last night, it is unclear where support in the House of Commons actually lies. What we do know is that from now on, parliament will play a larger role.” He writes, “There are still only three broad possibilities ahead. One is no deal, which is the legal default and now the preferred option of some MPs, but is passionately opposed by a clear majority in parliament. The second option is no Brexit, probably through what is disingenuously called a “peoples’ vote” but is actually a second referendum, or as a result of the UK withdrawing Article 50. The third option is to leave with the prime minister’s deal or something close to it. All three seem impossible, but one of those paths will have to become possible.” He concludes, “Yesterday’s vote was a major embarrassment for the government, but it doesn’t close off the path to a negotiated Brexit, based around the only deal actually on the table — the one that Theresa May and the EU agreed last month.”
Elsewhere, Open Europe’s Aarti Shankar spoke to TRT World yesterday, saying, “The question of whether or not the EU will offer concessions depends on what they look like… but equally, whether or not these concessions will actually get the deal through Parliament.” Also appearing on TRT World before the vote, Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze said, “The EU will be waiting for the Prime Minister [Theresa May] to give some clarity on what is it that Parliament wants,” adding, “We should not exclude the possibility of the Prime Minister going back to Brussels asking for clarifications…but the EU needs to be sure it will actually change something.” Meanwhile, Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh spoke to Al Jazeera English channel, saying, “It is difficult to see [Theresa May] bringing back the [Brexit deal] again and again if it has not been changed at all, but the question is then what changes she can secure.” Separately, in an interview with BBC Radio Ulster yesterday, Open Europe’s David Shiels said, “The reality is that the deal will not get through the Commons without significant Labour support and attention will be turning to Labour leadership in the coming days.”