The Latest Brexit Votes: What Are Theresa May’s Options Now?
The UK was supposed to leave the EU on March 29th, so this week marked the start of what was supposed to be Britain’s last two weeks in the EU. But with the British Parliament still torn in two, every proposed Brexit deal has been declined, and the UK is no closer to having a solid Brexit plan.
Earlier this week MPs once again gathered in the House of Commons to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s second proposal for a Brexit deal. May believed this deal was ‘the best and indeed only deal available’ but MPs were quick to reject it.
For a while, MPs have backed the opinion that ‘no-deal is better than a bad deal’, but this week saw a change of opinion. An overwhelming majority voted against a no-deal, and so the rest of the week saw several votes about how best to proceed with Brexit.
MPs vote to extend Article 50
Despite May promising over and over again that come March 29th, Britain would be out of the EU, one of the biggest decisions this week was whether or not to delay Brexit. The majority voted for extending Article 50, hoping to give May more time to come up with a plan that both Britain and the EU will accept.
Article 50 is a clause in the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, which basically outlines how countries can leave the EU. It states that if a country has notified the EU of their intention to leave, they will cease to be EU members after two years has passed.
March 29th will mark the end of the two-year period, meaning if no deal has been agreed upon by then, there’ll be a no-deal Brexit.
So on Thursday night, to avoid leaving without a deal, the MPs voted to extend the article, giving Britain until the 30th June to find a deal that both the UK and the EU agree to. But there was a catch. British MPs voted for the extension on the condition that an official Brexit deal would be decided before Wednesday 20th March.
Even if Britain were able to come up with a successful Brexit deal in such a short space of time, Prime Minister Theresa May still needs to pitch the proposed extension to the other EU countries. For Article 50 to be extended, the EU need to agree that an extension is the best way forward.
MPs vote against a second referendum
As well voting to delay Brexit, UK MPs also voted on whether or not to bring about a second referendum. Those who voted to remain in 2016 have long been campaigning for a second referendum, unhappy with the results of the first vote.
Their argument is that no-one fully understood what Brexit actually meant, or how to go about it. It was also a close call, with only 52% voting leave.
But regardless of the chaos that ensued the 2016 referendum, or the fact that Brexit was a close call, the UK government has a responsibility to act on behalf of the people. The people voted to leave for valid reasons, and holding a second referendum would be considered undemocratic.
British MPs seemed to agree, with the majority voting against a second referendum. Even Labour supporters, who have previously pushed for a second referendum refused to back the second vote.
What is the next step?
These votes mean that regardless of the continued chaos, Britain has only a few days to come up with a Brexit deal that UK MPs and the 27 other EU member states agree to. The UK is still legally obliged to leave the EU on the 29th March, unless the extension is agreed. But even then, a deal will need to be decided quickly.
May will put forward her third deal next week, before Thursday. And Parliament will again need to vote on whether to accept or reject it. However, if they reject the deal, a no-deal Brexit is much more likely. The EU likely won’t allow an extension, because no progress will have been made towards finding a solution.
Even if the EU agree the extension, many are doubtful that a solid plan will have been reached before 30th June.
May is using the threat of endless negotiations, as well as a possible no-deal to persuade MPs to accept her deal. And to some extent, it seems to be working. MPs who have previously opposed May at every step of the way are now planning to vote for the next deal on the table.
Esther McVey, who used to be Britain’s work and pension secretary before resigning in protest to May’s approach to Brexit, is amongst those who plan to vote for May’s next deal. Whilst McVey isn’t particularly enthusiastic about the deal, but she recognizes that ‘the choice before us is, this deal, or no Brexit whatsoever – and to not have Brexit, you go against the democratic vote of the people.’
What are Theresa May’s options?
The events and votes of this week have limited May’s options. Much of the pressure she has previously applied to MPs has been based on the threat of a no-deal, but that’s no longer an option.
So May only really has two choices going forward: put forward another deal that conforms to the EU’s terms, or stop Brexit from happening altogether.
However, as McVey pointed out, a no-Brexit would be undemocratic, and would cause outrage in both the UK and the EU.
So May’s only real option now is to create a deal and hope it’s agreed by all parties. However, with only a few days left to create an agreeable plan, it’s unclear how beneficial a deal will be for the UK, or what will happen if the deal is rejected yet again.