Why was the vote cancelled?
There was a sense of inevitability about the cancellation of the planned vote on the Brexit deal. Since Theresa May managed to get EU leaders to sign on the dotted line of her proposed departure deal, criticisms have been arising from Brexiteers and Remainers across the political spectrum. A ruling from the EU Court that the UK could cancel Article 50 and remain in the EU added fuel to the fire. The government was also found in contempt of parliament for not sharing the full legal advice regarding Brexit and once this was revealed, flaws in the plan became evident. It was clear by the beginning of the week that the vote would not pass through parliament. Rather than risk that failure and all that it might imply for the Brexit process and the current government, Theresa May has gone back to the drawing board.
What happens now?
Theresa May is returning to EU leaders to discuss amendments that would make her deal more palatable for parliament so that it will pass the vote. However, this is not what EU leaders expect from these last-minute meetings. European Council President Donald Tusk insisted that the EU would not renegotiate. The PM’s meetings with EU officials and leaders including Dutch PM Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are aimed at rescuing the deal. While the EU will not renegotiate, they are willing to discuss how they can help “facilitate UK ratification.”
What’s the problem?
A key sticking point throughout the Brexit debate has been the Irish border and this has proven to be the major stumbling block with the current iteration of the deal. The PM will be looking for “further assurances” about the Northern Ireland border plan to get backing from MPs. It is likely that the emergency discussion with Brussels would focus on the Brexit backstop in Ireland after Theresa May conceded that the current proposals had caused “widespread and deep concern.”
Will parliament get a chance to vote on the deal?
The announcement confirmed that the vote had been delayed pending further discussions with the EU. However, there is a sense that the government is simply kicking the can down the road. The European Council remain adamant that there will be no further changes to the deal, but it appears that the deal will need changes to pass through UK parliament. This is the conundrum that the PM and her Brexit team must solve.
Is this likely to change the impact of parliament’s vote?
Before the vote was dramatically cancelled with just a day to spare, we took a look at the possible impact of the vote on the Brexit deal depending on the outcome. What has changed, other than the date of this vote, is that the stakes appear higher. A failure to come back with a proposal which is acceptable to parliament will make a vote of no confidence much more likely. Theresa May, as the face of this deal, would be on very shaky ground. If the deal is voted through by parliament, we can expect for Brexit to continue along the agreed timeline. Any delays at this crucial juncture could cause even greater uncertainty. The pound is likely to face some tough days in the run up to Christmas and if MPs vote against the current deal, there is a sense that all bets are off and the possibility of an extension, a second referendum, a general election and a no-deal Brexit all become more likely.