Will Brexit ever end?
The British Parliament inflicted a heavy defeat on Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday evening - and increased the risk of a chaotic Brexit. With an unexpectedly large majority, the MPs rejected the exit agreement, which London and Brussels had agreed on after lengthy negotiations.
432 parliamentarians voted against the agreement, only 202 in favor. May's Conservatives have 317 seats; a good third of its own MPs refused to join her. It is the clearest defeat a British government has ever suffered in Parliament. The European Union reacted disappointed to the vote: "If a deal is impossible and nobody wants a no-deal, who will have the courage to say what the only positive solution looks like?", Asked Council President Donald Tusk on the short message service Twitter.
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labor Party, requested a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister immediately after the results were announced. The MPs will vote on this this Wednesday evening. If the opposition wins, there will be new elections. However, a success of the application is considered unlikely: Many conservative rebels who reject the exit agreement are also not interested in new elections and will therefore presumably support May.
According to previous plans, the British should leave the EU on March 29 - after 46 years. The Brexit treaty is intended to ensure an orderly separation. But the agreement must be approved by both the British and EU parliaments.
Without a valid contract, the agreed transition phase, in which not much should change for citizens and companies until at least the end of 2020, would no longer apply. Instead, duties and customs controls would be imposed immediately. But the ports in the UK and on the mainland are not prepared for customs controls, which is why chaos and traffic jams threaten. The constant supply for supermarkets and factories would be at risk.
Great Britain imports almost a third of its food from the mainland; Factories only hold parts for a few hours of production. For weeks now, business associations have been urgently warning of the consequences of leaving without an agreement.
May said after the defeat that parliament had spoken "and the government will listen". It is clear that the MPs rejected the treaty, but it is not clear what they are asking instead. The Prime Minister announced that she would speak to representatives of all parties and explore what changes would be necessary in order to win parliamentary approval. If that is clear, the government will discuss these proposals with the EU.
"For each of us this is the most important vote in our political career"
Brexit-enthusiastic deviants among the Conservatives are particularly displeased with the "backstop" in the exit agreement. This fall-back solution is intended to prevent customs controls from ever being necessary between the EU member Ireland and the British Northern Ireland. The Brexit champions fear that the clause could keep the kingdom imprisoned in close ties with the EU in the long term. The Northern Irish party DUP is also rejecting the agreement for this reason. May has been dependent on the support of this party since the lost parliamentary elections in 2017.
In order to help May, the EU had assured in a letter shortly before the vote that the European Union did not see the backstop as a permanent solution. The long and sometimes heated parliamentary debate on Tuesday showed, however, that this did not convince the critics. At the same time, the discussions revealed how deep the division is among the conservatives. Former Brexit minister Dominic Raab, who resigned in protest against May's course, called the treaty the "worst possible risk" for the economy and democracy in the kingdom.
May, however, said before the vote that the contract creates planning security for the economy and at the same time fulfills the promises of the Brexit campaign. Parliament is facing an historic decision: "This is the most important vote in a political career for each of us," she said. The alternatives to the treaty - an unregulated exit, a second referendum or new elections - would only bring uncertainty and problems. And negotiating a better agreement is not possible.
EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker regretted the result. The risk of a disorderly exit has thus increased. Hope to avoid this scenario, but prepare for it. The UK must now make its intentions clear as soon as possible: "Time is almost up." Federal Finance Minister Olaf Scholz wrote on Twitter that this was "a bitter day for Europe".
May could now try to get further assurances from Brussels that the backstop should not be used or only for a limited time. It would also be possible to postpone the exit by a few months. This would leave more time to break the blockade in London.
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