Parliament has rejected Theresa May’s Brexit vision just as she’s about to set out the next – and most crucial – part of her plan.
Defeated by rebels in her own Tory party, May now heads to Brussels to see her fellow European Union leaders. Thursday’s summit was meant to be a celebration of the breakthrough victory in Brexit talks she clinched just last week. Instead, May will no doubt face questions about what went wrong back home, and what her defeat means for the next stage of the divorce.
The vote in the House of Commons, which her minority government lost by four votes, emboldens rebels, reduces the chances of a no-deal Brexit, and allows lawmakers to veto the final deal that May brings back from Brussels. The Tory rebels tend to think the divorce process can be extended beyond two years if necessary – something the government rejects – and want to keep ties to Europe as close as possible. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, who led the charge on Wednesday, made clear that he was standing up for the 48 percent of Britons who voted to remain in the EU, while not seeking to subvert Brexit.
Next week May will discuss with her Cabinet the kind of trade deal the U.K. will seek from Europe. The outline of that negotiation is due to be included in any final agreement, which the U.K. Parliament has just won the right to vote on. Parliament’s potential view of any proposed future relationship might now weigh more heavily on those discussions.
On Wednesday, May made a personal plea for her party colleagues to support her. Ministers spent the day proposing concessions aimed at buying off rebels. It was a high-wire game that ended with a last-minute offer from the government to come back with a new text. The final concession was met with cries of “too late” in the chamber.
May will again have to retreat or face another defeat next week over an amendment the government introduced that sets in law the date of Brexit. The amendment delighted the pro-Brexit Tory faction. Opponents think differently, saying it increases the chances of Britain leaving before a deal is fully secured, and binds the government’s hands unnecessarily.
Man of the moment Grieve said on Wednesday that if the government was planning to leave without a deal, he would withdraw his support for the Conservatives. The pro-Brexit Daily Mail made its view pretty clear on Thursday’s front page.
Price of Rebellion | Lawmaker Stephen Hammond was fired as Conservative Party Vice Chairman after voting against the government on Wednesday. “Tonight I put country and constituency before party and voted with my principles to give Parliament a meaningful vote,” he said on Twitter. “Very disappointed to no longer be Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party for London.”
Facebook vs. Parliament | Facebook Inc. tried to dismiss concerns of Russian meddling in the Brexit vote. But the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee hit back. Damian Collins escalated the fight by saying Facebook hadn’t answered his question.
Banking Battle Lines | Battle lines are being drawn that will see EU negotiators offer London’s financial services industry inferior market access, if any at all, after Brexit, according to EU and national government officials involved in the preparatory work. The EU will reject calls for “Canada Plus, Plus, Plus” and most in the bloc aren’t prepared to grant any rights to the U.K.’s financial giants other than allow them a presence on EU soil – under EU supervision.
Urgent Transition | U.K. lawmakers have warned May that the need to secure a transition deal “is now urgent.” There’s a dramatic difference between a no-deal Brexit and a transition, Parliament’s Treasury Committee said in a report Thursday, saying that the latter should be agreed on as soon as possible to maximize the time available for discussion on the future trade arrangements. Businesses agree.
No Way to Run a Railroad | May’s government “confuses the hell” out of the EU and needs to “get unified” if it wants to succeed in Brexit negotiations, according to the head of the U.K.’s main business association. “Can you imagine running the board of a company, you evaluate a big investment decision, your board walk out of the room and then they all tell a different story?” Paul Drechsler, president of the Confederation of British Industry said in an interview.
The Voice of the 48 | Dominic Grieve gave an eloquent defense of the 48 percent of Brits who voted against Brexit as he set out why he’s fighting the government so hard. “We run the risk of losing sight of the fact that 48 percent of the electorate did not wish for the policy that we are currently pursuing and have deep concerns about, not trying to reverse it, but the extent to which it will have an adverse impact on their well-being,” Grieve said during Wednesday’s seven-hour debate. “We run serious risks of badly letting them down – all of them, collectively – by enacting bad legislation and taking very foolish decisions.”
On the Markets | Pound traders weren’t sure what to make of the parliamentary revolt, writes Paul Dobson. It could be seen as sterling friendly because it stops the government from acting unchecked in Brexit negotiations, and may “soften” the end result. Or it could be seen as bad news for the pound because it undermines the leader, shows lawmakers don’t share her vision for Brexit and puts May in even more jeopardy. The pound eased a bit after the vote and early on Thursday rose slightly to $1.3432.
David Davis is getting the sack – from an honorary role. Warwick University Conservative Association revealed it was firing him as honorary chairman because he is “so unworkable,” the Independent reported. “I shouldn’t have announced that on radio because we haven’t actually sacked him yet,” Rhal Ssan, internal affairs secretary for the association, told BBC Radio 5Live. Ssan acknowledged that Davis might have quite a lot on his plate already.
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.