The slow-moving political crisis that is Brexit — the voter-approved move for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union — has hit even more bumps in the last couple days.
If you stopped paying attention sometime in the two-and-a-half years that have passed since, in a fit of xenophobia, Brits voted in favor of leaving the European Union, here’s where Brexit is now at.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May narrowly survived a no-confidence vote — just one day after a major defeat in Parliament.
In a late Tuesday evening motion, lawmakers voted against May’s proposed Brexit deal by a staggering majority of of 432 to 202. That is a sound drubbing, and she’s been given three days by parliament to come up with an alternative plan.
But what do to? The deadline for her nation’s exit — March 29 — is fast approaching. The European Union has already said it will not renegotiate the deal.
A battered May delivered a speech following the Brexit vote, noting that while it was clear that the House did not support her plan, the vote says “nothing about what it does support nothing about how — or even if — it intends to honor the decision the British people took in a referendum Parliament decided to hold.”
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn immediately called for a motion of no-confidence in May’s government, calling the defeat of her plan “catastrophic.”
“After two years of failed negotiations, the House of Commons has delivered its verdict on her Brexit deal and that verdict is absolutely decisive,” he said.
He also called for May to resign, but that’s not going to happen. In fact, May said that an election was “simply not in the national interest.”
On Wednesday, Members of Parliament (MP) voted 306 — 325 against the motion.
What could happen next?
Under ordinary circumstances, the next elections are due to be held in 2022.
The timeline ahead might have had something to do with May’s narrow victory: Had she been booted, she would have had two weeks to try and win a new confidence vote. Failing this (and absent a vote in favor of another party), a new election would have happened after at least 25 business days passed.
So we would be looking at early March before a general election could even be held — just a couple of weeks shy of the deadline for the United Kingdom to pack up and leave the European Union.
Even with May’s government still in place, what the prime minister and the British public, in general, are looking at is a very giant mess — one they brought on themselves with their June 2016 vote.
With or without House approval, Brexit would still happen — just without the terms negotiated by May. This would turn into a total customs nightmare at the borders, as previously reported by ThinkProgress.
There could be another public vote on Brexit, something May has previously ruled out. Or, she could see about extending that March deadline — the European Union has said it would consider it if presented with a valid reason, and the country’s government basically being in major turmoil could be enough.
Speaking of the E.U….
What is the European Union saying?
Having been stung by the Brexit vote, the European Union has tried to conduct itself with the dignity of a dumped partner who wants to seem cool enough to still be friends.
But the E.U.’s patience, clearly, has its limits.
On Monday, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Junker, president of the European Union Commission, penned a joint letter to May, making it clear that the deal she negotiated with them is the only Brexit deal the U.K. would get:
“As you know, we are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement, but against this background, and in order to facilitate the next steps of the process, we are happy to confirm, on behalf of the two EU Institutions we represent, our understanding of the following points within our respective fields of responsibility.”
Both men tweeted their responses to the vote against the deal as well as the uncertainty that followed:
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?
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) January 15, 2019
— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) January 15, 2019
The highest E.U. court has ruled last month that the United Kingdom can change its mind and stay in the compact. European Union Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier aptly pointed out in a statement on Wednesday that “the political conditions for the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement are not yet there in London.”
For that to happen, though, the British government would essentially have to admit that it can’t deliver what it put up to a vote before the people. If that happens, perhaps voters will be better informed on the substance of what they’re voting on.
What does this mean for the United States?
Response to the Brexit vote in Washington has been muted, with the U.S. government in the middle of a shutdown and the White House dealing with fresh allegations that the FBI has looked into whether President Donald Trump had, indeed, worked for Russia.
President Trump, who is not a fan of multilateral agreements and compacts, favoring bilateral deals instead, was a vocal supporter of Brexit in 2016.
Many people are equating BREXIT, and what is going on in Great Britain, with what is happening in the U.S. People want their country back!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2016
He even gave himself the nickname “Mr. Brexit,” though the United States isn’t part of any such union.
They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2016
But while en route to a totally disastrous visit to London last July, Trump gave an interview to a British tabloid, slamming May’s handing of the Brexit deal, saying he had advised her on how to do it, “but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me.”
Trump said the deal, as May had negotiated it at the time, would “kill” any kind of bilateral deal between the United States and the United Kingdom.
Brexit will pose problems for U.S. banks and businesses operating in the United Kingdom — for many companies, offices there provide convenient access to the European Union. A Brexit, even one with a deal, will slow the pace of business, add paperwork, expenses, and, probably, new tariffs.