SHARE
COPY LINK

BREXIT

Brits in Europe hold breath with MPs set to vote on Theresa May’s ‘improved’ deal

Lawmakers in London were set to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal on Tuesday a day after she said she had secured a new and improved deal to leave the EU. Britons across Europe will be waiting anxiously and will have mixed feelings about whether they want the deal to pass.

Brits in Europe hold breath with MPs set to vote on Theresa May's 'improved' deal
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday she has secured “legally binding” guarantees from the EU designed to get the Brexit deal through the British parliament and avert a chaotic withdrawal.

She announced the move after a late evening dash to Strasbourg to hammer out the changes with top European officials, as the clock ticked down to Britain's scheduled divorce from the bloc on March 29th.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned that the stakes were increasingly high, ahead of a vote by British lawmakers on the deal on Tuesday.

“The choice is clear: it is this deal, or Brexit may not happen at all. Let's bring the UK's withdrawal to an orderly end,” the former Luxembourg premier told reporters, sitting next to May at a late-night press conference in the French city.

“There will be no third chance.”

The three-part package of changes effectively aims to resolve a key sticking point for British MPs over the so-called backstop plan to keep open the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

“Today we have secured legal changes,” May told reporters after the talks with Juncker and the European Union's chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

“Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people.”

UK lawmakers will study the new proposals before holding a vote on the divorce deal Tuesday, with just 17 days remaining before Britain's planned split from the bloc after 46 years.

Britain's House of Commons overwhelmingly defeated the deal in January and was expected to do so again on Tuesday without meaningful change.

However on Tuesday the signs for Theresa May were not good as Britain's Attorney General Geoffrey Cox published his legal advice on the new deal.

Cox concluded that the new guarantees do reduce the risk of Britain being stuck in the so-called Northern Ireland backstop – which would keep the UK in a customs union – if the EU acts in bad faith.

But he added that if trade talks simply drag on because the two sides cannot reach an agreement then Britain would not have a way out of the backstop. 

And as a result of that legal advice, the pound fell.

'Incompetence or contempt?'

Another defeat in parliament could see Britain sever ties with its closest trading partner on March 29th with no new arrangements, causing huge disruption on both sides of the Channel.

It would also raise the possibility of postponing Brexit, after May promised to allow MPs a vote later this week on whether to accept a “no deal” scenario or request a short delay from the EU.

Juncker said he recommended the deal to the EU Council, which represents member states, and that Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar was prepared to back the changes on the backstop.

Brexit-supporting MPs reacted cautiously to news of the agreement, but said they wanted to examine the detail.

“We will certainly analyze that very, very carefully,” said Nigel Dodds of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), part of May's coalition government.

The DUP's support is crucial if the deal is to pass the House of Commons.

May's trip to Strasbourg caused concern among some MPs, who had complained they may not have enough time to scrutinize what May agreed before being asked to vote.

“Is this incompetence or is this just contempt for parliament?” said opposition Labour MP Yvette Cooper.

'Harder to leave the backstop'

May's initial deal was struck after 18 months of tough negotiations, and covers Britain's financial settlement, expatriate rights, the Irish border and plans for a transition period.

But MPs rejected it in January by a massive 432 votes to 202, with many of May's Conservatives rebelling against her.

The Commons later sent her back to renegotiate the backstop.

This would keep Britain in the EU customs union and parts of its single market until and unless another way — such as a trade deal — is found to avoid frontier checks.

Juncker said May and he have agreed a “legal instrument” to ease British concerns over the backstop.

Many MPs fear it is a “trap” to keep them tied to EU rules, but Brussels has rejected calls for a time limit or unilateral exit clause.

“It is harder to leave the backstop than it is to leave the EU,” claimed Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, an influential Brexiteer.

May has promised Britain will leave the EU whatever happens on March 29th, but many MPs fear that a “no deal” exit would wreak economic havoc.

In the face of a cabinet revolt, she promised that if her deal is defeated again then MPs will vote on “no deal” on Wednesday and then on Thursday, on delaying Brexit.

Any postponement would have to be approved by the leaders of the other 27 nations, who are next meeting at a Brussel's summit on March 21st and 22nd — a week before Brexit day.

Nigel Farage, who spearheaded the campaign that led to Britons voting in the June 2016 referendum to leave the EU, held firm. 

“This is all words and twisted meanings. Nothing has changed. Reject. Reject. Reject,” Farage tweeted.

Britain's main opposition Labour Party also came out against the agreement.

“This evening's agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised parliament,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

Member comments

  1. We now suspect that Theresa May is not merely an idiot, or simply pigheaded to the max, but actually was BOUGHT and PAID FOR from the very beginning, to create the disaster of a Hard Brexit, because her puppeteers (the same ones who engineered the original social-media /brainwashed / manipulated referendum) WANT chaos, since that will bring THEM their Ultimate Tory and “Libertarian” Billionaire “investment opportunities.” (Never mind massive suffering caused to others. Sociopaths don’t care, do you?”)

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

SHOW COMMENTS