The British government will face a no-confidence motion on January 16 after the European Union withdrawal deal put forward by Prime Minister Theresa May was defeated in the biggest parliamentary upset in modern British history. The withdrawal deal — setting out the terms under which Britain should leave the EU on March 29 this year and agreed with the EU in November — was rejected by 432 MPs from across the political parties, with just 202 MPs supporting it. The defeat by a margin of 230 votes is considerably larger than the 166 votes by which the minority Labour government of Ramsay Macdonald lost a vote in 1924, highlighting the level of the political crisis engulfing the U.K. The rejection of the deal means that if no alternative is found and no extension is sought by the U.K., Britain will crash out of the EU without a deal on March 29.
Ms. May, who had long insisted that “no deal” was better than a bad deal with the EU, told MPs that she had wanted Britain to leave the EU in an “orderly way with a good deal” and called on MPs to clarify what they supported if it wasn’t her deal. “I ask members on all sides of the House to listen to the British people who want this issue settled and to work with the government to do that.”
However, Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn described the result as a “catastrophic defeat” for the government and urged the Prime Minister to take “no deal” off the table, and to secure a permanent customs union with the EU where workers rights and protections had been guaranteed. “The House of Commons has delivered its verdict on her Brexit deal.”
The debate on the no-confidence vote will take place on January 16 afternoon, with a vote set to take place on January 16 evening around 7 p.m. local time (January 17, 12:30 a.m. IST).
The Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland — whose opposition to the withdrawal deal was crucial to the defeat — made clear that it would vote with the government in any no-confidence motion. Conservative MPs who voted against the government on January 15 also made clear they would vote with it in the no-confidence vote, making it highly unlikely that Mr. Corbyn will win the motion. Should he win it, the Labour party — the official Opposition — would have 14 days to put together a governing majority and should it fail to do so, another general election would be called. Under Britain’s fixed term parliament legislation, a general election would only otherwise take place in 2022.
Given the unlikelihood of this scenario, the question will be whether the Labour party would support a second referendum. At last year’s party conference, the Labour party agreed to listen to the calls for a second referendum from within its own ranks by saying that it would consider this option if and only if it failed to secure a second referendum. Whether it actually will do so remains to be seen. The Labour party's support is seen as crucial to any attempt to get a second referendum. However, a second referendum could be the only way to persuade the EU side to agree to extend the deadline for Brexit, which with less than 75 days to go increasingly looks like the only way of avoiding a no-deal crash out, which is widely agreed to be devastating for both the U.K. and the EU.
There are also some who will hope the government will eventually be able to pass the withdrawal deal in a subsequent vote by extracting further concessions from the EU.
However, this will have been more likely to be the case had Ms. May been defeated by a small majority, enabling her to argue that it was just a matter of small tweaks to the deal. The scale of the opposition to the deal means that EU leaders will see little point in making any further changes only for these to be rejected as well.
European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker expressed his “regret” at the outcome of the vote and called on the U.K to clarify its intentions as swiftly as possible. “The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening's vote. While we do not want this to happen, the European Commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared.”