11 Mar

ABCC Brexit Update - 11 March 2019 - Parliament to Vote Again on Theresa May’s Brexit Deal

Parliament to Vote Again on Theresa May’s Brexit Deal

Summary

  • The House of Commons is due to vote on an amended version of Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Deal on Tuesday evening 12 March (London time).
  • With no signs of a breakthrough in negotiations with the EU over the contentious issue of the Northern Irish backstop, May faces the prospect of losing tomorrow’s ‘Meaningful Vote’.
  • If May loses the 12 March vote, MPs will vote on whether they support a ‘No Deal’ Brexit on 13 March.
  • If this vote fails, MPs will vote by 14 March to request an extension to the EU’s Article 50, the bloc’s secession clause, to delay Brexit beyond 29 March.
  • The Daily Telegraph reports that any request to extend Article 50 could be met by demands from the EU for an additional punitive financial charge to the UK.
  • There is speculation that the opposition Labour Party will once again table a Vote of No Confidence in the Government if May loses the vote tomorrow.
  • May’s premiership is under increasing pressure from within her party with her aides reportedly considering persuading her to offer her resignation soon after tomorrow’s vote to secure MP support of her deal.
  • On 10 March, former Foreign Secretary and potential leadership challenger, Boris Johnson called for MPs to keep ‘No Deal’ on the table and reject the request to extend Article 50.  According to Johnson, EU leaders would then ‘be forced’ to come to the table when its leaders meet on 21 March.
  • 18 days remain until the UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.

With Eighteen Days to Go, a Crunch Week for Brexit in Westminster

The House of Commons is due to vote on an amended version of PM Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Deal on Tuesday evening 12 March (London time).  After almost two years of negotiations, PM May had initially presented her deal to Parliament in January and suffered one of the biggest losses for a sitting government in modern British parliamentary history.  Since the January loss, PM May and UK negotiators have been attempting to seek concessions from the EU over the deal’s contentious inclusion of a Northern Irish ‘back-stop’.

As a reminder, within the proposed Withdrawal Treaty, the ‘back-stop’ is an agreement for the UK to remain aligned to the EU’s Customs Union until a solution is found to avoid a hard-border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  Given the fragility of peace on the island of Ireland, both the UK and the EU have placed an importance on avoiding physical infrastructure on the border.  Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs believe that such an arrangement would “shackle” the UK to the EU indefinitely and argue that the UK would be unable to strike meaningful post-Brexit free trade deals with other countries, including Australia. 

With no signs of a breakthrough in the negotiations with the EU, May now faces the prospect of losing tomorrow’s ‘Meaningful Vote’.

What Happens if Tomorrow’s Vote is Lost?

Firstly, if PM May is able to pass the vote on her amended Brexit deal tomorrow, the UK would remain on course to leave the EU on 29 March.  A transitional period would then commence, with the UK remaining aligned to the EU’s Customs Union until December 2020.  During this time, the UK and EU would negotiate a future free trade agreement with the EU.  This period can be extended until as late as December 2022, should both sides agree.

If, however, PM May loses tomorrow’s vote due to an ability to secure concessions over the ‘back-stop’, MPs will then vote on 13 March whether they support a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, stating the UK would “only leave without a deal on 29 March if there is explicit consent in the House [of Commons] for that outcome”.  Commentators note that there are not enough supporters of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit in the House of Commons for this vote to pass.

A Delay to Brexit?

If the 13 March vote also fails, MPs will then vote by 14 March to request an extension to the EU’s Article 50, the bloc’s secession clause, to delay Brexit beyond 29 March.

It is important to note that an extension to Article 50 would come through a formal request from the UK to other EU member states.  Any extension would require the full agreement of all EU member states and runs into the difficulty of the upcoming EU parliamentary elections in May.  If still a member of the EU, the UK would be required to take part in these elections and field candidates.

Furthermore, The Daily Telegraph reports today that any request to extend Article 50 would be met with demands by EU leaders for the UK to pay an additional punitive financial charge to remain in the EU, past 29 March.

PM May’s Future in Doubt

Should PM May lose tomorrow’s vote, there is speculation that the opposition Labour Party will once again table a Vote of No Confidence in the Government.  The party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, tabled a similar unsuccessful vote following the ‘Meaningful Vote’ in January. 

With the clock ticking towards 29 March, there is increasing speculation that May cannot rely on her own MPs to survive another vote of confidence.  According to The Times, May’s premiership is increasingly under pressure from within her party with her aides reportedly considering persuading her to offer her resignation soon after tomorrow’s vote to secure MP support of her deal.

Furthermore, former Foreign Secretary and potential leadership challenger, Boris Johnson called on the 10 March for MPs to keep ‘No Deal’ on the table and reject the request to extend Article 50.  According to Johnson, EU leaders would then ‘be forced’ to come to the table when its leader meet on 21 March, eight days before the UK is scheduled to leave the bloc.  Other mooted potential challengers to PM May include Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former Brexit Minister Dominic Raab.

The ABCC and Brexit

The ABCC will continue to follow these developments closely in the coming weeks.  We look forward to keeping members up to date with the very latest from London and what it possibly means for the Australian-British business community.  

If you would like to receive more frequent Brexit updates or have any questions, please feel free to contact our office on abcc@britishchamber.com.

By Paul O’Hagan

Paul O’Hagan is the ABCC’s General Manager in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.  Prior to joining the ABCC, Paul was Senior Political and Economic Advisor to the U.S. Government in London, covering Brexit.

 

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