No-deal Brexit looms as British MPs again reject withdrawal deal

March 29, 2019, was supposed to be a historical date for the UK that would see it officially part ways with the EU.

Instead, British lawmakers spent the day debating and voting on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal. A deal that was already rejected twice.

Even after telling members of her Conservative Party that she would step down if her withdrawal agreement were approved, it turned out that the third time wasn’t the charm for May’s deal, which was defeated by 344 votes to 286, a majority of 58. The deal had previously suffered losses by majorities of 230 and 149.

“Today should have been the day that the United Kingdom left the European Union. That we are not leaving today is a matter of deep personal regret to me,” said May just before MPs started voting on her deal.

Under the terms of the Brexit delay that the EU and UK agreed to the other week, British lawmakers had to approve May’s deal by March 29 to secure an extension until May 22. By not passing the deal, the UK is now set to depart the EU on April 12 but has until then to bring forward new proposals, including the potential for a longer delay.

After her deal was rejected, May addressed MPs saying that the consequences of the latest vote are “grave” and reminded them that the UK is now due to leave the EU in 14 days.

“I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this House,” May told MPs.

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EU response

After learning that May’s deal was defeated, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, announced that he called an emergency summit for April 10.

Before the third vote on the deal, Tusk tweeted an appeal to the European Parliament asking that they be open to the notion of a long extension to Brexit, which the UK can request until April 12.

“Appeal to EP: You should be open to a long extension, if the UK wishes to rethink its strategy. 6 million people signed the petition, 1 million marched. They may not feel sufficiently represented by UK Parliament but they must feel represented by you. Because they are Europeans.”

In a statement, the European Commission said it “regrets the negative vote in the House of Commons,” adding that it is now up to the UK “to indicate a way forward before that date.”

“A ‘no-deal’ scenario on 12 April is now a likely scenario. The EU has been preparing for this since December 2017 and is now fully prepared for a ‘no-deal’ scenario at midnight on 12 April. The EU will remain united. The benefits of the Withdrawal Agreement, including a transition period, will in no circumstances be replicated in a ‘no-deal’ scenario. Sectoral mini-deals are not an option.”

Frustration boils over

While debate went on inside Parliament, thousands of protestors demonstrated around Westminster to express their frustration.

Westminster Council said it was aware of up to 13 separate protests scheduled on Friday and police have been brought in to deal with the planned protests.

Business leaders have also voiced their frustration with the process that has only served to add more uncertainty to the existing chaos surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

“No one would run a business like this – and it is no way to run a country,” said Adam Marshall, head of the British Chambers of Commerce, at the organization’s annual conference on March 28. “A messy and disorderly exit would not just be deeply irresponsible, it would be a flagrant dereliction of duty.”

In a statement, Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said businesses are now asking what happens next.

“Responsibility for this deepening political crisis lies squarely at the feet of politicians who have clearly stopped listening to this business community. Our small businesses have been crying out about the significant damage that uncertainty is causing them. These cries have been drowned out by those seeking to play political games,” Cherry stated.

“Our small firms are sick and tired of politicians debating and dithering over Brexit. They are trying to get on with their jobs and it’s time that politicians get on and do the same.”

But business leaders in the UK aren’t the only ones concerned. The US Chamber of Commerce said the increasing likelihood of a no-deal Brexit is troubling American workers and businesses.

“We are troubled by the considerable uncertainty that results from today’s vote, leaving us now just 14 days away from a chaotic No-Deal Brexit,” said Marjorie Chorlins, executive director of the Chamber’s US-UK Business Council. “We urge MPs to find consensus immediately on a way forward that avoids what surely would be a disastrous development for consumers, workers and businesses alike.”

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What happens now with Brexit?

The past week caused more confusion than ever about what MPs want to see with Brexit.

A few days before voting on May’s withdrawal agreement, lawmakers debated and voted on eight alternative options for Brexit, all of which were defeated.

The next important day for Brexit is April 1. That’s when MPs will hold another round of indicative votes where they will consider different options for leaving the EU. If one of the options wins a majority, the attention will then turn to the government’s response on whether it will accept the alternative plan.

If none of the indicative votes win approval, it spells more uncertainty for Brexit.

Another option for May would be to call a general election or stand aside and let another leader sort out the situation. There’s no indication she will do either, though opposition leaders called for May’s immediate resignation after her deal was again defeated.

Any of these options would almost certainly require the UK to seek a long extension to the Brexit process – which would also mean participating in elections for the European Parliament.

The EU has said that it would be open to an extension, but only if the UK presented a plan to break the deadlock.

If the UK doesn’t pass a withdrawal deal or put forward any alternative options by April 12, then a no-deal Brexit will take place.

The next couple of weeks will be pivotal for Brexit, and there’s a good chance that things could get even murkier before we have an idea of the way forward.

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