LONDON – Barring a last-minute turnaround, British lawmakers are expected to reject Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to take the nation out of the European Union, an outcome that could delay or derail Brexit altogether and threaten May’s leadership.
A vote in Parliament on May’s EU withdrawal agreement will take place beginning around 7 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET). If the measure fails, May has until the start of next week to come back to Parliament with additional concessions or a Plan B – and Britain has just 10 weeks until it is due to leave the bloc, with or without a deal, on March 29.
What’s clear is that failure to pass the vote would mean that almost two years after it voted to leave the EU, Britain still faces an impressive array of Brexit-related possibilities: More votes, a new prime minister or government, a postponed or shelved exit from the EU, a withdrawal in name only – or no exit at all.
President Donald Trump has criticized May’s Brexit plan and the two leaders have had an awkward relationship that strained a historic “special” alliance that stretches back decades. May has publicly disagreed with Trump on a range of geopolitical issues, from his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal to his immigration policies.
Most analysts believe if Britain leaves the EU without an exit deal it will significantly harm its economy. The Bank of England has warned tumbling out of the bloc could plunge Britain into its deepest recession in nearly a century. Three million EU nationals who live in Britain under EU “freedom of movement” laws, and 1.3 million Britons who do the same in other EU nations, would become illegal overnight.
Many lawmakers including from May’s own ruling Conservative Party object to the deal she has negotiated with the EU because they don’t think it goes far enough to disentangle Britain’s economic and political ties to the 28-nation bloc.
Among the concerns: an unresolved question over the land border between Northern Ireland (part of Britain) and Ireland (part of the EU). Decades of peace between Northern Ireland’s Irish Catholic community and its British Protestant one have been facilitated by the free trade and travel across that border that EU membership allows.
May survived a so-called no-confidence in vote in her leadership called by members of her party late last year who threatened to oust her from power. While under parliamentary rules another of vote this kind can’t be called by members of her own party for another year, opposition parties could band together to hold another one. And if she lost that one it could lead to a new prime minister or trigger an election.
May previously delayed a vote on her EU deal because it was unlikely to pass. She has also made it clear that she opposes holding a second referendum on Britain’s EU membership, which passed in the 2016 referendum by 52 percent to 48 percent.
However, if she fails to win Tuesday’s context it does not spell automatic disaster for her leadership or Brexit. She’ll have three days to devise a backup plan.
“It is reasonable to expect that another parliamentary vote could be an option,” wrote analysts at Rabobank in a research note. They pointed out that for this to happen May would need to lose today’s vote by a smaller-than-expected margin.
British media reported Tuesday that May could lose out by as many as 200 votes, which would make it the worst defeat in Britain’s Parliament in nearly 100 years.
May has vowed to “respond quickly to the result.”
One vote she can’t rely is pregnant lawmaker Tulip Siddiq’s.
Siddiq, from the opposition Labour Party, is delaying the planned caesarean-section birth of her second child by two days so she vote against May’s deal.
She plans to enter Parliament in a wheelchair.
“If my son enters the world even one day later than the doctors advised, but it’s a world with a better chance of a strong relationship between Britain and Europe, then that’s worth fighting for,” the 36-year-old told Britain’s Evening Standard.
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