British Prime Minister Theresa May called off a crucial Parliament vote on the U.K.’s Brexit deal Monday, the latest example of the chaos surrounding the U.K.’s attempt to leave the European Union.
Earlier in November, May’s government published the full, 600-page draft of its Brexit deal, laying out a specific plan for how it would leave the EU before the looming deadline on March 29, 2019. Unsurprisingly, hardline Brexiteers, including many within May’s Conservative Party, hated the deal because it struck a compromise with the EU, extending the transition period for which the U.K. would remain part of the EU’s single market.
May needed to get the deal through Parliament, but it became clear on Monday that Conservative Party rebels would deal May a devastating defeat. As a result, May called off the vote, and Bloomberg News reported she planned to head back to Brussels this Thursday to see if she could get any further compromises from the EU.
May was reportedly prepared for a close defeat, which would have allowed her to re-negotiate some cosmetic changes in the deal with the EU and then pass it in a second vote. The sheer scale of the Conservative rebellion, however — 100 MPs have reportedly denounced the deal — means May will have to get significant concessions from Brussels, which the EU has already said it won’t do.
🇪🇺 Commission: “We will not renegotiate." pic.twitter.com/A4pcR16J0B
— Mark Johnston 🇪🇺 (@MarkJohnstonLD) December 10, 2018
May’s government’s majority (and ability to pass legislation) is only possible because of a deal she made with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, who also hate the current deal because it keeps Northern Ireland in the EU single market. The alternative would be a “hard-border” in Northern Ireland, which could open up the region’s complicated sectarianism again and create a resurgence of paramilitary activity.
There are however other options on the table for May. To emphasize her public mandate, she could call for a second referendum and ask the British public to choose between her deal and staying in the EU, or call a general election, or even postpone Brexit — although all 27 members of the EU would need to approve such a move.
As politicking continues, the clock is ticking ever closer to the March deadline, and every failed vote further increases the worrying prospect of the U.K. leaving the EU with no deal — the so-called nuclear option.
The consequences of a no deal are profoundly worrying. The Bank of England has said it would shrink the U.K.’s GDP by 8 percent, plunge property prices by a third, bring shortages to everything from food to medicine, and leave U.K. citizens living in the EU in legal limbo.
The continued back-and-forth about Brexit is already having serious real-world effects. On Monday, the British pound slid to an 18-month low against the dollar, trading at $1.26. The continued ambivalence is likely to create further instability.