We provide updates on progress and setbacks concerning the planned withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
State of State
On June 23, 2016 citizens of the United Kingdom (UK) voted on whether to have the UK leave the European Union. The result: just under 52% voted for leaving. Soon after, the UK Government (under the newly installed Prime Minister Theresa May) and its Parliament began a multi-year process of negotiation among themselves and with leaders of the European Union (EU) over the terms of the Draft Agreement on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, also known as “Brexit.”
The stated preference for several leaders is an orderly Brexit, one more predictably governed by a Withdrawal Agreement ratified by both the UK Parliament and the European Union. If ratification by either body is not possible, the default occurrence would be a Brexit without any agreement or deal governing or guiding a wide and varied assortment of economic, legal, and societal relationships. The original deadline for the proposed Brexit under an Agreement was March 29, 2019. Due to problems securing agreement on the terms of the Agreement, the deadline has been moved to October 31, 2019.
A source of impasse has been the decision — supported by the governments of Theresa May, Ireland, and the European Union — to insist on and include in the current draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement means to avoid the return of a hard border between Ireland (it being an independent nation and member of the European Union) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK). Those means, and other points of contention, have been understood by a critical number of voting Members of Parliament (MPs) as, in effect, constituting non-independence from the EU (or “Brexit in name only”). A critical number of MPs do support the draft Agreement as its stands. Another critical number cite the slim-majority result of the referendum and are focused on securing a second referendum, a softer Brexit, or no Brexit at all.
Hence the nature of the updates below.
14 March 2019: LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — A third successive day of notable Parliamentary motions sees MPs defeat an amendment (344-84 with much of the Labor Party abstaining) that would have called a second referendum on Brexit; but MPs did in the end approve a motion tabled by the May government (412-202) asking the EU for a postponement of the Brexit deadline past March 29.
13 March 2019: LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — The day following the second decisive defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK Parliament was scheduled to vote on a number of motions pertaining to Brexit. Of most importance were motions that would make official Parliament’s intent that a “No-Deal Brexit” (a withdrawal of the UK from the EU without any agreement) not occur, and be taken off the table during further negotiations. May’s government tabled a motion that precluded a No-Deal Brexit but ended with wording that made clear to all that “leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law unless this house and the EU ratify an agreement.” That motion was defeated. What passed in its place was a similar motion, also precluding a No-Deal Brexit, but one that had that final sentence removed. The tally was 321 (yes) votes to 278 (no). It should be noted that yesterday and today representatives from the EU have repeated that the so-called No-Deal Brexit is indeed the default outcome on March 29 unless three actions occur: one, the UK Parliament agree on a Withdrawal Agreement; two, the UK revokes Article 50 and cancels Brexit altogether; or three, the UK successfully applies for an extension. A successful extension was not guaranteed, it was reasserted, since approval was to require unanimity on the part of all EU members, and that in turn would likely require clearer assurances — from May and from the observed scenes of MPs in London — that the extension would lead to a resolution of the impasse in the UK Parliament.
12 March 2019: LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — Prime Minister May, having secured some assurances and additional provisions from the EU regarding the potential Irish Backstop, presented to Parliament both the revised Agreement and her defense, warning, and even plea for its passage during the day’s voting. The result after the vote — defeat, once again — with 391 MPs against and 242 MPs for the Agreement. The deadline for Britain’s proposed exit from the EU is March 29. Several, including the UK Attorney General, surmise that an extension is inevitable. The EU has indicated it would consider such an extension, though for a likely circumscribed amount of time, and most probably if it becomes clear to all observers that an extension would help the UK Government and Parliament agree on the Agreement. EU negotiators and government officials have, thus far, been consistent in their insistence that few, if any, changes on the Agreement are forthcoming.
15-16 January 2019: LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — Upon return from recess, the MPs gather to continue debate then vote resoundingly against the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between Prime Minister Theresa May and the European Union. The margin is remarkable — 432 to 202 — and many observers agree that it consitutes another historic moment for the UK Parliament, with no post-WWII government having suffered such a defeat for its leading legislation. By the next morning, the opposition party (Labour) had as expected tabled another no-confidence vote on May’s government, which she again survives, but this time by just 19 votes: 325-306.
12 December 2018: LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — In part due to the delay in parliamentary voting, the Conservative Party secures enough letters of no-confidence to trigger a vote on Theresa May as leader of the party. May survives the challenge by a vote of 200 to 117.
10 December 2018: LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — On the eve of a scheduled parliamentary vote on the Brexit draft agreement with the EU, the May government withdraws the plan and postpones the vote, with no future vote date specified. Prime Minister Theresa May admits that the decision was taken following a preliminary assessment that the draft agreement would have been defeated in tomorrow’s voting by a significant margin.
5 December 2018: LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — May government releases to the public six pages of legal counsel Attorney General gave concerning Brexit. Noted was the Attorney General’s written indication that the Irish “backstop” negotiated into the draft agreement would place United Kingdom under European Union’s custom “indefinitely,” well after Brexit in March 2019. The information confirms concerns by parliamentarians that the UK would not in the future be able to unilaterally pull out of the customs relationship with the EU.
4 December 2018: LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — UK Parliament votes to hold the May government in contempt — a first in modern British parliamentary history — over its reluctance to release for parliamentarians’ examination records of legal counsel the Attorney General gave to the May government concerning Brexit.