May suffers parliament defeat, govt forced to work on plan B

The cabinet needs 318 votes to get a deal through the 650-seat House of Commons

British PM Theresa May suffered an early defeat to her Brexit plans last Wednesday when parliament demanded the government come up with a plan-B within days if she loses a vote on her deal to leave the EU, news wires reported. With less than three months before Britain is due to quit the EU, parliament began a five-day battle over May's Brexit plan with undermining her preferred timetable. Lawmakers are to vote down her blueprint on 15 January.

May has so far refused to retreat from her unpopular deal, which envisages close trading ties with the EU, but without any say on policy as Britain has now, after leaving in March. Instead, she has pressed ahead with a vote she looks set to lose after failing to win over her nominal Northern Irish allies. But losing the vote would further deepen the uncertainty over the future of Britain, and open the way for several different outcomes, ranging from a disorderly exit to another referendum.

The government needs 318 votes to get a deal through the 650-seat House of Commons, as seven members of Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein do not sit, four speakers and deputy speakers do not vote and the four tellers are not counted.

Last Wednesday May called on parliament to back her deal, suggesting she was confident of securing further assurances from the EU to ease their concerns and offering Northern Ireland more control over the “backstop” arrangement to prevent the return of a hard border with EU member Ireland. “I've been in contact with European leaders...about MPs' concerns. These discussions have shown that further clarification over the backstop is possible and those talks will continue over the next few days,” May said.

British PM told lawmakers that parliament had a choice: back her or risk Britain leaving the bloc without a deal - a scenario many businesses say would splinter supply chains and hamper investment in the world’s fifth largest economy. May's de-facto deputy said it was a delusion to think the government would be able to negotiate a new divorce deal if parliament voted down hers. “I don’t think the British public are served by fantasies about magical, alternative deals that are somehow going to spring out of a cupboard in Brussels,” Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington told BBC radio.

But MPs voted 308-297 in favour of demanding the government come up with an alternative plan within three working days after the 15 January vote, rather than a planned 21-day limit. Responding to the vote, Brexit minister Stephen Barclay told parliament it was the government's intention to act quickly if May's Brexit plan was rejected. “I also want to reassure colleagues that whatever the outcome of this debate, we will respond rapidly, recognising that we must provide parliament with as much security as possible,” he pointed out.

The opposition Labour Party said it will call for a vote of no confidence in the government if May loses the vote. 15. One of Labour's top policy team said this would take place immediately, but a spokesman said the timing would be decided as events unfold. With the likelihood of a disruptive “no-deal” Brexit, the EU is looking at how Brexit might be postponed, and pro-EU campaigners are testing ways Britain could hold another referendum after voters narrowly backed leaving in 2016.

More on this subject: Brexit

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