Could the Withdrawal Agreement Defeat in May Impact Brexit?
The Brexit saga may be reaching a critical juncture again, as the UK Parliament prepares to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May`s revised Withdrawal Agreement on March 12th. The outcome of the vote is uncertain but crucial, as it could determine the terms and timing of the UK`s departure from the EU, which is currently scheduled for March 29th. However, even if May manages to secure enough support from both her own party and the opposition, the defeat of the agreement could still have significant consequences for the future of Brexit.
Why Might the Withdrawal Agreement be Defeated in March?
The reasons why the Withdrawal Agreement was rejected by a record margin of 230 votes in January are still largely valid, despite some changes that May has negotiated with the EU. The key issues that have divided the UK and the EU, as well as May`s own Conservative Party, are the Irish backstop, the future trade and security relationship, and the role of the UK in the EU institutions during the transition period.
The Irish backstop, which aims to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland by keeping the UK in a customs union with the EU until a new arrangement is found, is still seen as a threat to the UK`s sovereignty and unity by many pro-Brexit MPs. The revised agreement includes several new assurances and clarifications, such as the right to seek arbitration and the provision that the backstop would only be temporary, but they may not be enough to convince some hardliners to change their vote.
The future relationship, which would determine the level of access and cooperation between the UK and the EU after Brexit, is also still uncertain, despite the Political Declaration that accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement. Some MPs argue that the declaration is too vague and non-binding, and that the UK could end up in a worse position than if it remained within the EU. Others argue that the declaration leaves too much room for the EU to dictate the terms and conditions of the UK`s trade and security arrangements.
The role of the UK in the EU institutions during the transition period, which would last until the end of 2020 or later, is also a contentious issue. Some MPs, especially those who support a harder Brexit, do not want the UK to be subject to EU rules and regulations without having a say in their making or enforcement. Others, especially those who prioritize economic stability and continuity, see the transition period as a necessary bridge to a new relationship and a way to avoid a chaotic and abrupt exit.
What Could Happen if the Withdrawal Agreement is Defeated Again?
If May fails to win the support of enough MPs, she could face several scenarios, none of them ideal for her or the country. One option is to ask for a delay of the Brexit deadline, which would require the agreement of the EU and could only be temporary. Another option is to try to renegotiate the agreement with the EU, which has already ruled out major changes but might be willing to offer some additional clarifications. A third option is to leave the EU without a deal, which would be the default outcome if no agreement is reached by March 29th. This could lead to significant disruption to trade, travel, and security, as well as to political and social consequences that are hard to predict.
However, the defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement could also trigger other significant events, both within the UK and the EU. For instance, some MPs may push for a second referendum on Brexit, which could give the public another chance to vote on the issue and potentially reverse the previous result. This could also require a delay of the Brexit deadline, but could also increase the political and social polarization that Brexit has already caused.
Moreover, the EU may also react to the UK`s uncertainty and instability by changing its own strategy and priorities. Some EU leaders may become more sympathetic to the UK`s position and seek to avoid a no-deal scenario, while others may become more impatient and demand that the UK make a clear and final decision. The EU`s upcoming elections in May could also complicate the negotiations, as the new Parliament and Commission may have different priorities and mandates.
The Withdrawal Agreement defeat in May could have far-reaching consequences for both the UK and the EU, and for the future of Brexit. While May has made some changes to the agreement, the fundamental issues that have divided the UK and the EU are still unresolved, and the clock is ticking. Whether the UK can find a way to leave the EU in an orderly and mutually beneficial manner, or whether it will face a chaotic and uncertain future, remains to be seen. What is clear is that the stakes are high, and the consequences of the decision will be felt for years to come.