It was expected that the current proposal for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union would face a crucial vote before members of Parliament on Tuesday. Instead, amid faltering odds of success that became apparent during three days of debate, Prime Minister Theresa May has, at least temporarily, withdrawn her much-maligned plan from voting consideration.
“I have listened very carefully to what has been said, in this chamber and out of it, by members from all sides,” May said during her speech before MPs. “From listening to those views it is clear that while there is broad support for many of the key aspects of the deal, on one issue—the Northern Ireland backstop—there remains widespread and deep concern. As a result, if we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow the deal would be rejected by a significant margin. We will therefore defer the vote scheduled for tomorrow and not proceed to divide the [House of Commons] at this time.”
May defensed the compromises offered to the European Union in the current Brexit proposal and pledged that, starting later this week, she would seek to gain concessions from the European Union that may assuage U.K.-centric concerns.
“Having spent the best part of two years poring over the detail of Brexit, listening to the public’s ambitions, and yes, their fears too, and testing the limits of what the other side is prepared to accept, I am in absolutely no doubt that this deal is the right one,” May said. “It honours the result of the referendum. It protects jobs, security and our Union. But it also represents the very best deal that is actually negotiable with the EU.”
Nevertheless, May said, taking “a step back,” it is “clear that this House faces a much more fundamental question. Does this House want to deliver Brexit? And if it does, does it want to do so through reaching an agreement with the EU? If the answer is yes, and I believe that is the answer of the majority of this House, then we all have to ask ourselves whether we are prepared to make a compromise. Because there will be no enduring and successful Brexit without some compromise on both sides of the debate. Many of the most controversial aspects of this deal—including the backstop —are simply inescapable facts of having a negotiated Brexit.”
“Those members who continue to disagree need to shoulder the responsibility of advocating an alternative solution that can be delivered. And do so without ducking its implications,” May said. “So, if you want a second referendum to overturn the result of the first, be honest that this risks dividing the country again, when as a House we should be striving to bring it back together.”
“If you want to leave without a deal, be upfront that in the short term, this would cause significant economic damage to parts of our country who can least afford to bear the burden,” she added.
Audio of May’s full speech can be found here:
Jeremy Corbyn, Parliament’s leader of the Labour Party, was among those critical of May’s last-minute maneuver.
“The Government has decided Theresa May’s Brexit deal is so disastrous that it has taken the desperate step of delaying its own vote at the eleventh hour,” he said in a statement. “We have known for at least two weeks that Theresa May’s worst of all worlds deal was going to be rejected by Parliament because it is damaging for Britain. Instead, she ploughed ahead when she should have gone back to Brussels to renegotiate or called an election so the public could elect a new government that could do so.”
Corbyn, responding to May with a speech of his own, called the current proposal “a bad deal for Britain, a bad deal for our economy, and a bad deal for our democracy.”
He went on to describe the Brexit process under May’s watch as “two years of shambolic negotiations, and red lines which have been boldly announced then cast aside.”
“We're now on our third Brexit secretary, and it appears each one of them has been excluded from these vital negotiations,” he added. “We were promised a precise and substantive document and got a vague 26-page wish list. … The government is in disarray. Uncertainty is building for businesses. People are in despair over the state of these failed negotiations and concerned about what it means about their jobs, their livelihood, and their communities.”
“The prime minister is trying to buy herself one last chance to save this deal. If she doesn't take on board the fundamental changes required then she must make way for those who can,” he concluded.
Audio of Corbyn’s full remarks can be heard below.
Complicating Brexit affairs all the more is a ruling by the European Court of Justice that was also announced on Monday. Despite May’s staunch objections to such a scenario, the ruling could eventually set the stage for a new ballot referendum.
The ruling reads, in part: “The United Kingdom is free to revoke unilaterally the notification of its intention to withdraw from the EU. Such a revocation, decided in accordance with its own national constitutional requirements, would have the effect that the United Kingdom remains in the EU under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a Member State.”
Last December, a petition for judicial review was lodged by members of the U.K. Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, and the European Parliament to determine whether the notification referred to in Article 50 can be revoked unilaterally before the expiration of the two-year period for the exit process, “with the effect that such revocation would result in the U.K. remaining in the EU.”
With Monday’s judgment, the Court has ruled that, when a Member State has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, as the United Kingdom has done, that Member State is free to unilaterally revoke that notification.
That possibility exists for as long as a withdrawal agreement concluded between the European Union and that Member State has not entered into force or, if no such agreement has been concluded, for as long as the two-year period from the date of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the European Union, and any possible extension, has not expired.