London: The UK government’s Brexit deal faces defeat in parliament this week, which could trigger a major political and economic crisis.
British Prime Minister has already postponed the vote which was to have been held in December in the hope the delay would give her time to sway sceptical members of her Conservative Party that the deal was the best under difficult circumstances.
Time is up, so what happens next and how did it come to this?
Another vote on Brexit?! Why does this feel like deja vu?
There have been various preparatory votes – but this is the big one.
On Tuesday, January 15 the House of Commons is due to vote on the Brexit "divorce" deal agreed by the UK government with the rest of the European Union.
Pro-European demonstrators protest outside parliament in London on Friday.Credit:AP
It includes a (roughly) £39 billion ($70 billion) payment from the UK to the EU, to cover obligations it had promised to fund (such as superannuation payments to EU employees).
It covers the status and rights of the millions of EU citizens living and working in the UK and UK citizens living and working in the EU.
It covers things such as "geographical indicators" – the EU won’t be able to sell Welsh lamb unless it comes from Wales, and Parma Ham will still have to come from Italy.
It covers security and nuclear co-operation.
It sets out a 21-month "transition" period to follow Brexit, as a cushion for UK businesses and to allow time for a trade and customs deal to be negotiated, during which the UK will be treated as if it had never left the EU, except without any voting rights in EU institutions.
And – most controversially – it includes a "backstop" to kick in if the transition period ends without a trade deal, which will keep Britain and Northern Ireland in a customs union with the EU in order to keep the Irish border open and frictionless.
A banner reading “Vote Again” using branding from the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign hangs on an architect’s office in London on Friday.Credit:Bloomberg
What's different this time?
The deal the government has done with the EU remains unchanged since it was agreed in November.
However it is now even closer to the March 29 deadline, and if a deal isn’t done pretty soon then there may not be enough time to get everything in place to avoid a chaotic Brexit.
This could focus minds among dissenters.
The government has also come up with extra "assurances" on the deal:
• It has promised Northern Ireland a “strong role” in determining how the backstop would work in practice;
• It has accepted a greater role for Parliament in deciding on alternatives to activating the backstop, such as extending the transition;
• It expects, some time before Tuesday, to present a "clarification" from the EU on how the backstop would work, if it was required.
The government also hopes to get ultra-Brexiters back on side by suggesting that if its deal is rejected, the most likely alternatives would be a delay to Brexit or even a new referendum.
But most commentators are still predicting a solid loss by the government.
What's the sticking point?
Various MPs oppose the deal for different reasons. Opposition falls into three broad camps:
The "that’s not a real Brexit" camp believe May’s deal doesn’t deliver the kind of Brexit promised during the 2016 referendum. They are especially opposed to the backstop, which they say will leave Britain following EU rules it lacks any say in, and leave Northern Ireland too closely enmeshed in and regulated by the EU.
The "Brexit is bad" camp say this deal is simply bad for the UK and should be voted against for that reason. This includes Remainers who have always opposed Brexit in any form.
A sign in a parking lot of a cemetery reads: “No EU border in Ireland” near Carrickcarnan, Ireland.Credit:AP
The "Labour would do it better" camp want to use the Brexit vote to bring down the May government, trigger a general election and negotiate a different deal – one which would probably leave the UK much more closely tied to the EU.
What happens if May’s deal is voted down?
Very good question.
In a nutshell, the government will have until the following Monday to provide an answer.
The prime minister may resign rather than deal with the consequences of her defeat, but this would be quite out of character.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May walks with a ceremonial guard as she crosses Downing Street to welcome Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in London, on Thursday. Abe has expressed concerns about the effects of a no-deal BrexitCredit:AP
Theresa May has said repeatedly she will not cancel or delay Brexit, or hold another referendum.
Parliament appears to have a majority opposed to a "no deal" Brexit.
May could, technically, keep bringing her deal back to parliament until Brexit day, which would force a binary choice between her deal or no deal.
However parliament passed a law in early January that – though legal opinions differ – might allow it to decide the kind of Brexit (or otherwise) it prefers, and order the government to deliver it.
This would lead to an exciting and unpredictable showdown between parliament and the government.
What is a "no-deal Brexit"?
If parliament doesn’t pass May’s deal, there probably isn’t time to negotiate any alternative one with the EU, even if it were open to a renegotiation, which it insists it isn’t.
In that case, unless the UK and EU agree to extend Brexit – which is a legal option although the government insists it doesn’t want to – then the UK will leave the EU on March 29 without any agreement on how that would work.
This would have major, serious ramifications for the UK and EU.
It would leave EU and UK citizens in legal limbo if they want to move abroad to live or work.
The UK would be a "third country" with much more limited access to the EU single market.
It would mean new border customs checks between the EU and UK, leading to long queues at the border and major disruption to trade and industry.
UK industries that rely on "just in time" supply chains that cross the border would take a major hit and could have to relocate.
It could even mean food and medicine shortages in the UK (the government and industry have been working to build up stockpiles against this scenario).
The return of a hard border in Ireland could lead to a renewal of sectarian violence.
UK car or truck drivers would need new permits and licences to drive in the EU.
What are people saying about it?
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gestures as he delivers a speech on Brexit during a visit to OE Electrics in Wakefield, England, on Thursday.Credit:AP
“If the government cannot pass its most important legislation then there must be a general election at the earliest opportunity.” – opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn
“I don’t think the British public are served by fantasies about magical, alternative deals that are somehow going to spring out of a cupboard in Brussels.” – Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington.
"When the prime minister's deal is defeated, what else can we possibly offer to the British public which has any coherence at all but to go back and ask them to reconsider their decision?" – Tory Remainer Dominic Grieve MP
“We have a government that is committed to delivering Brexit, but it doesn't have a majority (in parliament).” – Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt
“The House must be prepared to earn the undying contempt of the country if it simply does not have the collective will, discipline and sense of duty to come to an agreement.” – senior Tory Sir Nicholas Soames
What's the takeout/bottom line?
Brexit is still a mess and just about anything could happen.
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