Westminster Brexit procedures have heightened risk of no-deal Brexit

13. June 2018, 18:15 Uhr

The confusion about Brexit has just become considerably greater. Yes, the government has survived voting on the amendments to its EU Withdrawal Bill without a formal defeat. Yet that was achieved only at the price of an increased danger of the Prime Minister’s eventual downfall later on by aggravating the factional infighting in the Tory party.

To explain why, let us delve into the details of that contentious amendment calling for a “meaningful vote” by Parliament on the deal struck between HM government and the EU in the fall. On the face of it, it appears simple enough: Should Parliament be dissatisfied with that Brexit deal, it may reject it and send the government back to the negotiation table in Brussels. Crucially, this procedural twist is intended to avoid a no-deal Brexit where the UK crashes out of the EU on 29 March next year without any agreement in place. That is no small fry: According to the existing draft of the bill, a no-vote by Parliament on the Brexit deal would simply effect the UK leaving the EU without any deal – just as the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, has been stating time and again since last November when the bill was introduced. However, not only has the amendment attempting to keep that scenario from becoming reality been defeated: Its related amendments, aiming to strike out the bill’s fixing the date of the UK’s exit from the EU to that infamous March 29, 2019 have all been defeated, too.

That simply means that for the time being, the clock remains ticking until that date, regardless of a potential vote by Parliament on the contents of the deal with the EU, and Britain will be out at the end of March in 2019. Only a factual amendment stipulating that there be no Brexit without a deal in place being validated by Parliament will change that. And that is where Theresa May and her government have manoeuvred themselves into a quandary without escape.

By offering promises (mind: promises, not factual amendments) to both the europhile as well as the eurosceptic factions within the Conservative Parliamentary Party on this matter, i.e. that precisely such an anti-no-deal amendment will be introduced and, respectively, that there never will be such an amendment, it is now impossible for the government to maintain its precarious balance in the House of Commons. As soon as one of those factions will be going into open rebellion over the amendments made to the Withdrawal Bill, the government will be defeated – throwing open a whole range of conceivable developments from there. And with the defeat of the “meaningful vote” amendment as discussed above, the risk of a no-deal Brexit has not been mitigated, at the very least.

Thus, far from reducing the risk of a chaotic Brexit without any agreement in place, Parliament’s voting on the bill has unfortunately aggravated it until further notice.

[Original version as of 13 June, updated on 20 June]

[Photo by: derwiki, use under Creative Commons license CC0 1.0]