UK Prime Minister Theresa May last night lost a symbolic House of Commons vote on her current approach to leaving the EU.
With 43 days left before Brexit, MPs voted on a motion to acknowledge May’s ongoing negotiations over the Irish backstop and “support” the amendments introduced in the previous vote on 29 January: the Brady amendment, committing May to replace the backstop arrangement in her withdrawal agreement with “alternative arrangements”; and the Spelman amendment, which eliminates the option of a no-deal Brexit. While the Spelman amendment was technically not legally binding, it became a sticking point for the rightwing European Research Group (ERG), a cadre of staunchly pro-Brexit Conservatives; who abstained on the principal motion.
Last night’s vote was non-binding and largely symbolic, serving primarily to highlight the ERG’s refusal to support May – who was not present in the House to hear the results – and the lack of concrete action on the part of both government and opposition to make any progress towards a Brexit deal.
The amendments to May’s motion were:
- The official opposition amendment, tabled by the Labour party, compelling the government to hold a new vote on the withdrawal agreement by 27 February if – as seems likely – the House of Commons has not already reached a deal; and
- An amendment tabled by the SNP which would delay the implementation of Article 50 by at least three months.
Both amendments were voted down by MPs. A cross-party amendment jointly drawn up by Conservative Anna Soubry and Labour’s Chukka Umunna, erasing the original motion and instead urging the government to publish the official advice it has received on the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit, was withdrawn by Soubry before the vote. Soubry said the government had promised to release its impact briefing independently.
With minimal progress made towards a Brexit deal and both UK and EU negotiators accusing May of stalling, British businesses are making what preparations they can for a potential no-deal Brexit, with some moving their operations overseas and others stockpiling goods. Carlos Tavares, President of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, said: “The prospect of a no-deal Brexit still has not been ruled out. On the contrary, this scenario looks more likely than ever before…the harsh fact, however, remains that none of this [no-deal preparation] can realistically cover all the gaps left by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on WTO terms. That is why we are urging both sides to redouble their efforts to successfully conclude a withdrawal deal in these crucial final weeks.”
The NHS has expressed significant concerns about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on healthcare in the UK, emphasising the risks of medicine and staff shortages. Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation and co-chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, a body which brings together representatives of the NHS, research, industry, patients and public health organisations, said: “Every part of the health sector is working flat out to reduce the impact of ‘no deal’ on patients and the public. But there are still too many risks and this could endanger lives. It may be stating the obvious but abruptly ending collaboration on medicines and devices, clinical research, treatments for rare diseases, public health, and access to healthcare while abroad is not good for patients. We are not reassured that it will all be fine if ‘everyone does what they’re supposed to’ – the reality is we will be faced with any number of uncertainties, from challenges with freight contracts to passing legislation on a specific date, and to any number of individual decisions made by doctors or patients. For the safety of patients, an agreement with a transition period would be preferable to no-deal.”