Cornered Theresa May faces no-confidence vote over Brexit

British prime minister's EU divorce plan in tatters as parliamentarians prepare to vote on her leadership's future.

    Cornered Theresa May faces no-confidence vote over Brexit
    Theresa May's deal was voted down by a massive majority of MPs [File: Frank Augstein/AP]

    British Prime Minister Theresa May finds herself in a tough spot one day after British MPs voted down the Brexit deal she negotiated. With 432 votes against and 202 for, this was the biggest defeat a government faced in modern history.

    After the defeat materialised, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn put forward a motion of no-confidence in May's government and requested that a vote be held on Wednesday.

    The Conservative leader is likely to survive the vote, as even those within her own party who rejected the draft Brexit proposal say they will support her to prevent what would almost certainly lead to a new general election.

    UK parliament rejects Theresa May's Brexit deal (2:57)

    With opinion polls putting the two leading parties neck-and-neck, a new vote would likely either force the Conservatives out of power or result in a continued stalemate.

    May at the 'end of the line'

    Labour's statements in the aftermath of the vote capture a sentiment widespread on both sides of the debate: That the prime minister doesn't see a clear way out of the crisis.

    Corbyn tweeted: "Theresa May has reached the end of the line."

    Even the United Kingdom's right-leaning newspapers didn't try to dress up May's woes.

    The Daily Mail, which backed her deal, proclaimed: "Fighting for her life" on its front page, while the right-leaning Daily Telegraph declared: "The crisis is finally upon us".

    Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said the party would settle for nothing less than another election.

    "The Tories have failed miserably on Brexit and it is no surprise Theresa May's deal has been rejected by such a massive margin," he said, adding: "We need a general election and a Labour government to break the deadlock and end austerity."

    An election would take weeks to organise and any new parliament would have to find a deal the EU also accepts.

    For now, the burden of concluding Brexit remains May's.

    The most immediate short-term remedy before her would be to extend Article 50, the constitutional mechanism for leaving the EU, something she has said she does not "believe" in doing, but has not ruled out entirely.

    Article 50 gives a member state two years to complete the process of leaving once the EU has been formally notified of its intention to leave. 

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    In December 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that the process could be unilaterally halted or extended by the member state.

    The move would bring temporary relief but is likely to enrage the hard right and Brexit supporters, who see it as a delaying tactic.

    'No-deal', new deal, or new referendum

    Aside from extending Article 50, the prime minister has few options to deal with the crisis at hand.

    A "no-deal" Brexit would see the UK leave the EU without an agreement on any shared trade, economic, security and other political structures, reverting to trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms.

    Seen as a doomsday scenario by most Britons, this option has support among the hard right and May does accept it as a possible scenario in spite of warning against it.

    The UK would have to strike hundreds of new trade deals to replace those lost in a no-deal Brexit, which would likely lead to a rise in prices and a slowdown in economic growth.

    Renegotiation of the draft deal is a second scenario that would see May heading back to Brussels to negotiate more favourable terms with EU leaders.

    The onus will be on her, however, as EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said it is up to Britain to come forward with ideas in wake of the vote defeat. 

    EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said a disorderly Brexit was looking more likely while European Council President Donald Tusk seemed to suggest that Britain should consider reversing Brexit altogether.

    Even if the EU agrees to concessions, May would have to put them to parliament and, given the unprecedented scale of the first defeat, it is unlikely a modified deal would pass as is.

    The third scenario on the table would be to call a second referendum on leaving the EU, demands for which have grown over the past year, spearheaded by the People's Vote campaign.

    But there is no guarantee that would work, either. 

    Polls show that while a majority of Britons would prefer to stay in the EU, the margins are small and have shifted little since the original 2016 referendum.

    May has dismissed the idea as a "betrayal" of those who voted to leave in 2016 and any attempt to reverse course on Brexit would also enrage the hard right.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News