British Prime Minister Theresa May finds herself heading into the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement debate in parliament on the heels of having lost two key legislative battles only days before a final vote on the deal with Brussels over the UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU comes up for a final vote on December 11.
May’s Conservative MPs backed two proposals that were shot down parliament that appears to be in a combative mood after May struck a deal with Brussels that has been widely condemned by members of her own party and those in opposition.
He latest legislative defeat came via a motion that parliament should have a free hand to determine how to proceed is May’s proposal is rejected. For the first time in the country’s history, the government was found to be in contempt by the parliament after it refused to publish a report on the legal ramifications of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Many hardline Brexiteers, including the former Brexit Secretary Dominik Raab, have argued that the government can, in fact, ignore the parliament and go to Brussels to demand a better deal. That is theoretically possible, but it would be politically implausible as more vehement EU opponents, including Jacob-Rees Mogg of the European Reform Group, have argued that the government should stick to a ‘no deal’ plan.
An apparent majority of UK MPs now appear to favour a Norway-style membership in the European Free Trade Area or full EU membership. That majority was emboldened by the advice of the European Court of Justice’s advocate general, Manual Campos Sanchez, who suggested that the UK can unilaterally revoke its withdrawal agreement.
Going back to Brussels appears out of the question for the time being, but May must still reassure both Conservative and Democratic Unionist Party MPs that the Irish backstop –the mechanism designed to avoid the creation of a hard Irish border – will not be an infinite legal transition trap from which the UK will never be able to leave.
The issue is now whether May can turn her backbenchers to vote for her Withdrawal Agreement, particularly if she is able to make the argument that Brexit could be averted altogether if the Withdrawal Agreement does not pass, which would be a credible threat. May has, in fact, argued that the current deal is better than ‘no deal’ as it takes into account the 48% of voters who cast their ballot to remain within the EU.
Public opinion for May’s positions have been hard to predict, but the Governor of the Bank of England, Marc Carney, warned on December 4 that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be devastting for the UK’s economy. The financial sector, a key industry in Britain, would suffer as the City of London would lose access to EU financial service markets.
Consumers would also feel the pinch as food prices could rise by 5-10% if the country was subjected to a disorderly Brexit scenario.
Carney also reminded Brexit hardliners that a UK waiver on tariffs, despite leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market, is impossible under World Trade Organization rules.