A strange thing happened in Westminster on Tuesday: British Prime Minister Theresa May actually won a critical vote in Parliament.
The House of Commons narrowly voted this week to approve two amendments to May’s much-maligned Brexit deal. The first of these was an amendment rejecting a Brexit that does not include a European Union deal. This agreement, however, is not legally binding, so the U.K. could still very well crash out of the EU with no deal once the March 29 deadline passes.
The second, a far more complicated amendment, was a decision by MPs to renegotiate the Irish border problem. Back in November, when May presented her full Brexit deal to Parliament, a key part of her agreement with the EU was that there would be no “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The key reason for this is that any “hard border” has the potential to re-ignite the long-simmering anger of the Catholic nationalists in that region, who view themselves as Irish and not British.
Hardline Brexiteers, however, hated May’s original plan because the lack of a hard border would keep the U.K. in the EU’s single market for the foreseeable future. Among the critics are the Democratic Unionist Party, a ardently pro-Brexit party from Northern Ireland, which is helping to prop up May’s slim majority in Parliament.
May now faces the unenviable task of returning to Brussels to renegotiate with the EU “alternative arrangements,” but the EU, like a broken record, has already stated that the original withdrawal deal, which May negotiated and presented to Parliament in November, is not up for debate.
“The withdrawal agreement is and remains the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union,” an EU spokesperson said in a statement. “The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement is not open for re-negotiation.”
To sum up, the U.K. Parliament remains paralyzed. It doesn’t like May’s original deal, it doesn’t like the idea of no-deal, and the idea of a second referendum has been as of yet unable to gather any sort of steam.
Meanwhile, despite MP’s protestations about how they don’t want a no-deal scenario, that very outcome is now less than 60 days away — and the direct consequences of a no-deal Brexit for the U.K. would be awful.
Time-sensitive supply chains would experience massive backlogs, U.K. flights to the EU would be grounded, and the country could experience levels of unemployment not seen since the 2008 financial crash. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, could experience renewed levels of violence. Earlier in January, The Guardian reported that a thousand police in England and Scotland were being trained for possible public order (i.e. rioting) situations in Northern Ireland.
But the implications of no-deal go far beyond the U.K.’s borders. As CNN noted, the U.K. is one of the largest economies in the world, and London remains a global financial center. Any sort of profound economic impact the U.K. suffers would undoubtedly have a ripple effect internationally.
Brexiteer voters, however, don’t seem to mind the prospect of the country suffering a food shortage because its politicians can’t come to an agreement. “It’s pure scaremongering,” one person told the BBC. “As far as I’m concerned, it’ll do the country good to go without for a little while. Make them appreciate what they’ve had.”