As historic defeat looms over Brexit, Theresa May scrambles to reduce margin

The first vote on the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by prime minister Theresa May is likely to see her government lose by a massive margin. It may even lead to a no-confidence vote against May

January 15, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
Theresa May's own Conservative Party has been badly divided over the Brexit issue. Photo: Bloomberg

Despite prime minister Theresa May making a last minute appeal to the House of Commons, asking members to give her Brexit deal “a second look”, the government seems set to face what could possibly be the biggest defeat in over a century on the issue. Observers have predicted that the ruling Conservative Party (Tory) itself will be split over the “meaningful vote” on the deal that is scheduled for Tuesday, January 15. The deal is expected to be defeated in the House by the biggest margin since 1924, with estimates ranging from 150 to 200.

Today, for the first time, MPs of the House of Commons will get to collectively decide on the draft 585-page Withdrawal Agreement, popularly known as the Brexit deal, negotiated by May. The voting was expected to be held in December 2018, but was delayed by May when strong opposition from both within and outside the party made it clear that the agreement would be rejected. May negotiated further with Brussels for certain concessions that could allow the Brexit deal to pass, but it only strengthened the opposition. The very postponement triggered a number of MPs within the ruling party to support a no-confidence motion against May’s leadership. May survived the vote on December 12, 2018, but the developments effectively split the ruling bloc in the House.

Opposition over the deal is wide-ranging and has brought together a number of political blocs. Some have argued that the deal compromises the country’s sovereignty, especially on the issue of a customs union with Ireland, and have argued for a ‘hard Brexit’. On the same issue, others have argued that the current proposal will end up destroying opportunities for the British people. Positions on the deal include suggestions of a ‘hard’ border with Ireland, with enhanced security to staying in the EU but on a different set of terms. All this has led to considerable and almost irreconcilable divisions within parliament and especially the Tories.

Over 100 Tory MPs who voted against May, with a few exceptions, have pledged to vote against the Brexit deal today. This prompted the leaders of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, to give more concessions on the Ireland backstop. But the deal still faces stiff opposition. Having accepted the likelihood of a defeat, the government is scrambling to bring down the margin. According to Bloomberg, this margin currently stands at 150, and it will be big task to even bring it down to less than 100. Guardian has written off the deal, estimating the margin to cross 200. It has also been reported that the government is set to face a second no-confidence motion from the Jeremy Corbyn-led opposition Labour Party, which might push the country into an early election, before the UK’s scheduled exit from the EU on March 29.

Such huge margins will have dire implications for both the government and the EU leadership since it would spell the near impossibility of a deal in the future. An overwhelming defeat would mean that both the government and the EU will have no luck in getting through a second deal that is scheduled to go for vote on January 21. This, in turn, means that the UK and the EU will have only two options, either for the UK to revoke the exit clause and remain in the EU or to exit without a deal. An exit without a deal will push the entirety of Europe, especially the UK, into a long period of uncertainty, which the cabinet minister, Michael Gove, warned about by quoting the famous line from the popular HBO series, Game of Thrones: ‘winter is coming’.