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May suffers biggest defeat in Commons history


Liam Sheasby

Liam Sheasby, News Editor
16 Jan 2019, 12:11 p.m.


Prime Minister Theresa May suffered the largest defeat in history in the House of Commons last night, with 432 MPs voting against her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and only 202 in favour.

The defeat itself came as no surprise, with many – including the Prime Minister – expecting to be defeated when the vote was originally scheduled last month.

The result means that the PM’s deal is now dead, and with the EU saying that this was the only deal available to the UK for leaving it now brings up a very realistic prospect of a No Deal scenario.

Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement primarily offered to remove the UK from being a member of the EU. What this means is that the United Kingdom would lose some of its current benefits, such as free trade, in order to abandon Freedom of Movement between the UK and the mainland, and to regain greater fisheries rights. This FoM withdrawal was a big demand of the Leave campaign, as was ending monetary contributions to the EU – funding which was then redistributed (unfairly, so say some MPs).

The Brexit deal offered a 21-month transition period within which to arrange trade deals with countries inside the European Union, before being open to negotiate with nations across the world, but many MPs in the Commons felt that May’s deal would damage trade for the country, as well as risk the Northern Irish peace process and threaten a return of a hard border between Northern Ireland (UK member) and the Republic of Ireland (EU member).

In the run up to the vote, all major polling groups bar YouGov listed the Labour Party as ahead of the Conservatives in public popularity, and it’s perhaps no surprise then that, after last night’s defeat, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called a vote of no confidence in the government.

The motion will be heard in the House of Commons today following Prime Minister’s Questions at noon today, with voting expected to take place around 7pm this evening. Mr Corbyn said that this afternoon’s session in the House will allow MPs to reflect on "the sheer incompetence of this government".

Despite the motion, the Prime Minister has already survived a vote of no confidence from within her own party and will likely survive again today. The DUP of Northern Ireland have promised to support Theresa May, while Tory rebels – despite not backing their PM as their leader – are not likely to vote themselves out of power.

Prediction: 327 votes for May, 307 votes against.

Even Labour’s own Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, believes that Labour and the other opposition parties will lose the Commons vote this evening, but told the BBC that “after yesterday's vote anything can happen in Parliament".

Polling from Sky Data also confirms that public opinion believes the country is in crisis, but that Theresa May shouldn’t be ousted.

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What happens next?

Theresa May should survive this second vote of no confidence. From here she has options, and 46 working days to act on them before the Brexit deadline arrives.

The options available are to attempt renegotiation with Europe (something Boris Johnson claims she has the mandate for), to push towards No Deal, or to offer the public a second referendum on Brexit – something which Theresa May opposes, and which Jeremy Corbyn has been hesitant to support.

Nigel Farage, former UKIP leader, MEP, and prominent Leave campaigner, told Sky News today that he believes a second referendum is the likely next step for the government. This is a risk for the Leave vote, with an age disparity showing more young people wish to Remain, and an influx of approximately 1.5 million young voters now eligible to vote in any potential referendum.

Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House, was doing the media rounds this morning arguing that the Prime Minister now must see if part of the deal can be agreed on and passed through Parliament instead, as well as telling the BBC that Article 50 and the March deadline will not be extended or revoked.

Yesterday May conceded in the Commons that she would be willing to hold cross-party talks with senior politicians, but according to John McDonnell this would not include himself or Corbyn. The belief is that some Leave-voting Labour members could be the key to a swing that sees the Prime Minister squeeze through a Brexit deal before the end of March.

If the No Confidence motion does pass then a 14-day countdown begins. The government, or an alternative, must win a vote of confidence in the House of Commons to simply assume command. This is unlikely, and if the 14-day period ends without a new government then a general election is triggered. This cannot happen anytime sooner than 25 working days from this deadline ending, and parties can negotiate when to hold the election.

There is a very minute chance that Brexit will be scrapped altogether, and this very subtle tweet from EU President Donald Tusk suggests that maybe this is the best outcome…

In response to last night’s defeat, the Pound is up slightly against both the Dollar and the Euro; $1.2882 and €1.1299 respectively. The increase in Sterling’s value has pulled the gold price down slightly, now at £1,003.86 per ounce.

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