UK MPs piled more pressure on Theresa May to rule out a ‘no deal’ Brexit on Tuesday (8 January) after inflicting another embarrassing defeat on her.
After a two week Christmas recess, UK parliamentarians resumed hostilities on Brexit, with 20 Conservative MPs joining forces with the opposition Labour party and supporting an amendment to the May government’s Finance Bill demanding that a ‘no deal’ Brexit be ruled out.
The amendment, which was carried by 303 votes to 297, does not force May and her ministers to change tack but is the first act of constitutional trench warfare between MPs and the government.
Sir Oliver Letwin, a former minister in David Cameron’s government who has never previously rebelled over Brexit, said that it was a signal to hard Brexit supporters that MPs would block a ‘no deal’ scenario.
“I want to make it abundantly clear to my honourable friends who are voting against the prime minister’s deal, which I shall be supporting, that the majority in this House will not allow a no-deal exit to occur on the 29 March,” he said.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stated that the vote “shows that there is no majority in parliament, the cabinet or the country for crashing out of the EU without an agreement”.
MPs will begin five days of debate on the Brexit deal on Wednesday, before finally voting on it next Tuesday (15 January).
The vote was originally timetabled for December but was postponed by the government when it became clear that the deal would be rejected. Mrs May then successfully fended off a leadership challenge from her own party, but appears to have swayed few minds on her Brexit deal which is still widely expected to be rejected.
While a majority of MPs may vote to take a ‘no deal’ Brexit off the table, that would not legally oblige Mrs May’s government to do so. The UK has already set out in law that it will leave the EU on 29 March.
But a new survey of MPs published on Wednesday suggested that lawmakers will struggle to unite around an alternative to Mrs May’s deal or a ‘no deal’. The poll of MPs, conducted by IPSOS Mori for the Britain in a Changing Europe academic network, found that MPs are themselves deeply divided and highly critical of Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement and accompanying Political Declaration.
While 70% of MPs from all parties were critical of the May government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations, none of the obvious alternatives to her deal agreed with EU leaders in November were palatable to them either.
50% of MPs, and 80% of Conservative MPs, said that customs union membership would not honour the referendum result, while 58% of MPs stated that a Brexit deal similar to membership of the European Economic Area would mean “we haven’t truly left the European Union and honoured the referendum result”.
Conversely, most Conservative MPs were confident that alternatives could be found to the “Irish backstop” question and that the UK economy could cope with a “hard Brexit”.
70% of Tory MPs believe that the UK would be able to quickly strike trade deals with the likes of the United States and China, and 58% of them are confident that such new trade deals would more than compensate for any lost EU trade.
No Conservative or Leave-supporting MP believed that the UK was likely to rejoin the EU in the next 20 years, while 50% of Labour MPs and 37% of Remain voters believed it would be.