London, United Kingdom – British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to bring her deal back to Parliament on Tuesday for a second meaningful vote.
Talks in Brussels have been deadlocked and over the weekend, it became clear that May was unable to convince EU leaders to agree to changes she was seeking to the withdrawal agreement, particularly on the so-called “backstop”, the protocol to ensure an open border is maintained in the island of Ireland.
The last time May put the deal to Parliament on January 16, it suffered a major defeat as 432 MPs voted against it and just 202 supported her plan.
The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29, in just two weeks’ time.
After MPs gave her a mandate to go back to Brussels and renegotiate the deal, May gave herself until March 12 at the latest to bring a revised deal back to Parliament.
The backstop, a backup mechanism that would come into place if no trade deal is agreed by the end of the withdrawal period, would keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, while the UK would remain in a customs union with the bloc.
But eurosceptic conservative MPs, as well as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), May’s ally in Northern Ireland, have been opposed to it arguing it would tie the UK to the EU’s trade rules indefinitely, or create a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The British leader has been trying to renegotiate legally binding changes with the EU which would make the deal palatable to Conservative Brexiters from the hardline European Research Group (ERG).
She has also been trying to win over Labour MPs from leave-voting constituencies with a 1.6 billion pounds ($2.1bn) fund and promises of more workers’ rights.
The EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said in a series of tweets on Friday that the EU had put forward a “legally binding interpretation” of the withdrawal agreement, including giving the UK the option of leaving the customs union unilaterally.
However, the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, called the offer “disappointing”, saying it simply brings back to the table a previously discarded option.
There was speculation that May might pull the meaningful vote, and ask MPs to vote on a provisional deal that she could bring back to the EU with the backing of parliament. Downing Street has denied those claims.
What is expected to happen?
May’s deal is not expected to win enough support on Tuesday.
If her deal is rejected, there will be two more votes this week to give MPs the final say on ruling out a no-deal scenario. If that is passed another vote will take place to decide on delaying Brexit.
“May has two strategies: threaten no Brexit, and threaten no deal,” said Benjamin Martill, a Dahrendorf Forum researcher at the London School of Economics who studies UK-EU relations. “Threatening no deal helps with leverage with the EU, but it hasn’t really achieved much.”
Eurosceptics might be persuaded to vote for May’s deal if they believe that Brexit may be cancelled altogether.
“What you’ve seen recently is much more movement towards May credibly threatening no Brexit, which is reinforced by the Labour Party now endorsing, under certain conditions, a second referendum.”
Is Brexit going to be delayed?
A Brexit delay appears to be a likely scenario.
This could be the result of MPs voting for an extension, or, if Parliament does not get the opportunity to vote for an extension, May could still ask for a short technical delay to allow the UK to pass the necessary legislation to leave the EU.
Regardless of the outcome this week, the EU would have to sign off the final agreement at the next EU summit, scheduled for March 21-22.
If MPs vote for an extension of Article 50, the part of the Treaty on European Union that allows member states to withdraw from the bloc, it is unclear whether this will be a long or a short one.
May wants to avoid a long extension beyond the end of June. EU elections are scheduled for May 23-26 and the new parliament has its first sitting at the beginning of July.
Participating would put the UK government at odds with Brexiters. However, British citizens would have the right to have a say on who represents them at the EU Parliament while the UK is still part of the EU.
All EU member states have to agree to an extension, and some EU leaders have expressed concern that it needs to have a specific purpose.
Will there be a second referendum?
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced two weeks ago that he would back a second referendum, in what was seen as a major shift in party policy.
That said, Labour looks set to abstain from putting forward an amendment in that direction this week, but individual MPs may decide to do so.
With a number of Labour MPs against a second vote, it remains unclear whether it would find a majority in Parliament.
There are reports May is under pressure to quit. Is she going to survive?
There has been speculation that the beleaguered prime minister may be forced to resign.
May has already survived a leadership challenge from within the Conservative Party, which means there cannot be another one before December.
However, “Parliament could choose to hold another vote of no confidence in her government, which they did after the last meaningful vote,” said Maddy Thimont Jack, a researcher at the Institute for Government in London. “It might be that at this stage some Conservatives will choose to vote against the government.”