With less than three months remaining before Britain leaves the European Union under terms of the Brexit referendum, Parliament on Tuesday forcefully rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to accomplish that task.
May’s proposal was defeated 432 to 202 vote in what The New York Times labeled “the biggest defeat in the House of Commons for a prime minister in recent British history.”
“She has completely lost control of the process, and her version of Brexit must now be dead, if she loses by 230 votes,” said John Springford, deputy director of the Center for European Reform.
The Parliamentary defeat is being used by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to announce he was seeking a vote of no confidence in the ruling coalition on Wednesday. Although if the motion wins it could trigger a general election to replace May’s government, the Democratic Unionist Party said it would stand by its Conservative Party allies, making a defeat for May unlikely.
However, some legislators are pushing hard for new elections.
No Prime Minister has led a government to this scale of defeat in living history. Usually the PM would have resigned immediately. Instead we’ve a government staggering on, directionless and unable to govern. This can’t go on. Contact your MP and tell them we need an election now
— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) January 15, 2019
Corbyn called the defeat “catastrophic” and said a vote of no-confidence would allow the House of Commons to “give its verdict on the sheer incompetence of this government,” CNN reported.
Politics aside, the issue facing Britain is that only a few weeks left before it leaves the EU, there is no plan for how that will work.
May’s defeat means it is now likely that various factions in Parliament will offer their proposals for the process. Springford said that if Parliament supports a proposal, May could try to cut a deal with the EU.
To appease the Labour Party, what is called a “softer” Brexit would need to be adopted that preserves some ties to the European Union.
“I think it’s now between a softer Brexit and a second referendum,” said Springford. Although Brexit passed in its first referendum, the closer the actual departure from the EU has come the more that doubts about Brexit have been publicly expressed.
May, however, said the people have already spoken.
“I ask members on all sides of the house to listen to the British people, who want this issue settled, and to work with the government to do just that,” May said.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox said May’s plan to manage Britain’s retreat from the EU was far better than simply ending the relationship.
“What are you playing at? What are you doing? You are not children in the playground. You are legislators, and it is your job. We are playing with people’s lives,” he said.
Dominic Raab, who formerly worked as May’s Brexit secretary in November, called the agreement “wracked with self-doubt, defeatism and fear.”
“This deal before us can’t end the grinding process — it can only prolong it,” Raab said. “It would torment us and our European neighbors for the foreseeable future.”
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