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World May’s Brexit deal is defeated. What happens now? A guide to the political crisis so far

The latest

  • Prime Minister Theresa May has until Jan. 21 to present a new Brexit plan after Parliament overwhelmingly rejected her last one, and then subjected her government to a confidence vote that it barely survived. If she can’t, Britain stands poised to leave the European Union without any trade deal or border regime to replace it.
  • Ms. May sought to reassure Britons in a televised statement Wednesday, urging MPs to set aside their differences and make sure Britain has a deal before it leaves the EU on March 29. "It will not be an easy task, but MPs know they have a duty to act in the national interest, reach a consensus and get this done,” she said.
  • Fearing the chaos a no-deal Brexit would cause for trade and border travel, some Britons are stockpiling supplies or learning how to grow their own food. “I remember the 1970s when gas prices soared," Londoner Chris Guthrie told The Globe and Mail. "I remember people siphoning petrol out of their neighbour’s car. It doesn’t take much for the norms to break down – all you need to do is put them under a little bit of stress.”

What was in this Brexit deal?

Nov. 15, 2018: European Council President Donald Tusk holds the "draft agreement of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union" during a press conference in Brussels.

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Since a nationwide referendum in 2016, Britain has been planning how to sever its decades-long ties with the European Union, and by how much. Last fall, after a year and a half of tense negotiations, Prime Minister Theresa May announced a breakthrough, in two parts: a proposed divorce agreement, running 584 pages, and a 26-page political declaration on future U.K.-EU ties. European leaders approved both parts of the deal at a special summit in Brussels on Nov. 25.

Here are some of the key features of what the documents said.

DIVORCE AGREEMENT

  • Timetable: Britain will leave the EU on March 29 but remain inside the bloc’s single market and bound by its rules until the end of December, 2020. The transition period can be extended for up to two years before July 1, 2020 if both parties decide more time is needed to work out a new trade relationship.
  • The Irish solution: A “backstop” plan to keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU until a permanent trade treaty is worked out. The point of the backstop is to avoid a return to controls on the historically fraught border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. If no deal is reached by the end of 2020, the backstop kicks in until a trade agreement is reached, and there will be a single U.K.-EU customs union. If that happens, the U.K. also agrees to keep its labour, taxation, competition and environmental rules on a level playing field with the EU’s.
  • Financial services: London’s financial sector, whose global stature has already been hobbled by the prospect of Brexit, would have only a basic level of access to EU markets after the divorce. It would have what’s called “equivalence,” or a recognition by the EU that a non-EU state’s regulatory system is equivalent to the corresponding EU rules. Essentially, Britain would have no more trade advantage in Europe than the U.S. or Japan, unless a future trade deal changes that.

POLITICAL DECLARATION

  • Trade: The two sides commit to a “comprehensive” economic relationship, including a free-trade area. There will be common customs arrangements to provide tariff-free trade, and the two sides commit to “build and improve on” the temporary single customs territory set out in the withdrawal agreement. But the document acknowledges that closeness will be limited by the EU’s need to protect the integrity of its single market, and by Britain’s desire for an independent trade policy.
  • Irish border: Britain and the EU commit to replacing the “backstop” with a permanent solution “that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland.” This could include as-yet undeveloped technological solutions.
  • Fishing: One of the most contentious issues, who has access to U.K. and EU territorial waters, is deferred. The declaration says only that the two sides should “establish a new fisheries agreement,” ideally by July 1, 2020.
  • Security: The two sides will try to maintain law-enforcement co-operation at the same level as now, “as far as is technically and legally possible.” There should be “timely exchanges of intelligence and sensitive information between the relevant Union bodies and the United Kingdom authorities.”

Why many Conservatives opposed it

Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, shown on Aug. 31, has resigned his position in Ms. May's government over the tentative deal.

Virginia Mayo/The Associated Press

The Conservative government has had a long and acrimonious debate between the proponents of so-called hard Brexit (a complete departure from the European single market) and a compromise to keep Northern Ireland in the single market and allow freedom of movement across its border with the Republic of Ireland. Ms. May’s pursuit of a “soft Brexit” compromise has angered the hard Brexit faction for months: Last July, her chief negotiator on the Brexit file, David Davis, resigned, and other ministers followed suit.

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Last November, the tentative deal provoked a new wave of resignations from critics who said it leaves Britain beholden to EU rules even after the divorce. High-profile departures so far include:

  • Brexit minister Dominic Raab
  • Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Mr. Raab’s office
  • Pensions minister Esther McVey
  • Junior Northern Ireland minister Shailesh Vara

Some of the hard-brexit Conservatives even triggered a confidence vote in Ms. May’s leadership by writing letters to the party’s “1922 committee,” which represents lawmakers without government jobs. She survived that challenge in a Dec. 12 vote – 200 in favour of keeping her on, 117 voting against her – but her authority was badly damaged in the process. By the time her Brexit plan came up for a vote on Jan. 15, 118 of her fellow Conservative MPs voted against it, though she was able to barely survive a confidence vote the following day.

Why other parties oppose it

DUP: Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 MPs hold the balance of power in supporting Ms. May’s minority government, also opposes the deal because they fear the backstop will leave Northern Ireland treated differently than the rest of Britain. The party has threatened to bring the government down if its concerns are not met.

Labour: Party leader Jeremy Corbyn calls the deal “half-baked” because it doesn’t actually exit the entire country from the EU, instead creating “an indefinite halfway house” where Britain has no real say over its affairs. He said Parliament “cannot and will not accept a false choice between this deal and no deal.”

The deal’s big defeat

Jan. 15, 2019: A full House of Commons gets ready to vote on Ms. May's Brexit plan.

HO/AFP/Getty Images

The House’s final decision on Ms. May’s plan got delayed for weeks as she fended off the leadership challenge and tried to get more concessions from her European counterparts. Finally, 432 MPs voted against it, and 202 for it – the largest parliamentary defeat for a government since 1924. Deal or no deal, the U.K. formally leaves the EU on March 29, unless both sides (including every EU member state) agree to extend the date.

What could be next for May

What happens when May comes forward with a new deal?

Parliament agrees on a new plan

Government and Parliament fail to agree, leading to a deadlock

PM may ask EU to extend Article 50

European Parliament and Council vote

New Brexit variant

No deal Brexit

No Brexit,

Britain cancels Article 50

New Brexit referendum

SOURCE: REUTERS

What happens when May comes forward with a new deal?

Parliament agrees on a new plan

Government and Parliament fail to agree, leading to a deadlock

PM may ask EU to extend Article 50

European Parliament and Council vote

New Brexit variant

No deal Brexit

No Brexit,

Britain cancels Article 50

New Brexit referendum

SOURCE: REUTERS

What happens when May comes forward with a new deal?

Parliament agrees on a new plan

Government and Parliament fail to agree, leading to a deadlock

PM may ask EU to extend Article 50

European Parliament and Council vote

New Brexit variant

No deal Brexit

No Brexit,

Britain cancels Article 50

New Brexit referendum

SOURCE: REUTERS

Analysis and commentary

Editorial: The Brexit farce just got turned up to 11

Doug Saunders: Amid the Brexit chaos, parliamentary democracy makes a bold return

Compiled by Globe staff

With reports from Paul Waldie, Associated Press and Reuters

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