LONDON – British lawmakers will try to force political clarity over the country’s departure from the European Union in two months as they debate and vote Tuesday on amendments to Prime Minister Theresa May’s unpopular EU exit deal.
The activity in the House of Commons comes two weeks after the deal May negotiated with the EU to leave the bloc on March 29 was overwhelmingly voted down in Britain’s Parliament. May also survived a “no-confidence” vote that threatened her leadership and cast doubt on whether Brexit would even happen. Two years after Britain narrowly voted to leave the EU, the nation is deeply divided between “leavers” and “remainers.”
May’s more immediate problem is trying to win parliamentary approval for her deal.
The Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow – known for his flamboyant delivery of “Order! Order!” at bickering lawmakers – has yet to decide which amendments will be voted on. However, two of the likely proposals include ruling out Britain leaving the EU without an exit agreement in place, and delaying Brexit until after its scheduled March date so that more concrete withdrawal plans can be put in place.
Voting is expected to begin around 7 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET).
May is seeking to secure a mandate from British lawmakers to help her secure concessions from the deal she negotiated with the EU. But it remains an uphill task whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s vote: The EU has not agreed to re-open talks.
For many British lawmakers, the most contentious part of May’s EU deal is the Irish “backstop,” a largely unresolved issue to do with the land border between Northern Ireland (part of Britain) and Ireland (part of the EU). Years of peace between Northern Ireland’s Irish Catholic community and its British Protestant one have been ensured by the free trade and travel across that border that EU membership allows.
All concerned want to avoid a return to a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and Ireland after Brexit. The “backstop” is a temporary measure to allow the border to remain open in the event that the U.K. and EU fail to reach a free trade deal.
Critics worry it could indefinitely maroon Northern Ireland outside the U.K., in the EU.
While May has not been able to negotiate a deal that satisfies lawmakers, the majority of parliamentarians as well as economists, political scientists and independent analysts agree leaving the EU without a deal would be a worst-case scenario.
This is because it would mean that decades-old EU legislation covering health, travel, security, trade and more would evaporate with few contingencies on March 29.
The Bank of England has warned it could cause the deepest recession in Britain in nearly 100 years. A survey by the American Chamber of Commerce estimates it could threaten 1.4 million jobs and $593 billion in direct investment from U.S. companies.
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.
Executives from Britain’s leading supermarkets wrote a letter to the government on Monday warning that a “no-deal” Brexit would lead to food shortages and price rises.
Major manufacturers of cars and airplanes, such as Airbus which employs 14,000 people in Britain, say it could lead to plant closures and job losses. There have also been questions raised about potential chaos at sea ports and other borders.
“It would be a total disaster,” business minister Richard Harrington said last week.
Yet some lawmakers from May’s ruling Conservative Party believe that Brexit needs to happen whatever the cost. “Taking no deal off the table has been used as a thinly veiled attempt to stop Brexit,” Andrea Leadsom wrote in a newspaper column Sunday.