Politics roundup: Theresa May’s latest defeat and post-Brexit trade agreements

Politics roundup: Theresa May’s latest defeat and post-Brexit trade agreements

Theresa May has suffered yet another Brexit defeat.

Theresa May has suffered yet another Brexit defeat.

Yesterday, MPs in the House of Commons debated the Government’s motion on leaving the EU – one reiterating support for the Brexit approach expressed by the Commons on the 29th January. This was the second of May’s amendable parliamentary motions following her Brexit deal’s defeat.

In January, MPs successfully amended the motion twice – the first amendment called for the Government to seek “alternative arrangements” to replace the Irish backstop. The second said that the House of Commons rejected the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

Matters became more complicated this week, however, as the Prime Minister faced an internal rebellion due to a number of European Research Group pro-Brexit Conservative MPs threatening to vote against her for fear of a no-deal Brexit being ruled out.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman’s reassuring words in regards to a no-deal outcome still being on the table was not enough to sway their opinion as 66 Tory MPs abstained from the vote. The final outcome was 303 votes to 258, a majority of 45.

This move by ERG Brexiteers has caused the organization to be branded as a “party within a party”, as well as a “drag anchor” on the Prime Minister.

Although some ministers attempted to play down the significance of this vote, it is at this point undeniable that the divisions within the Conservative party run deep, and may well tear it from within.

Nonetheless, the defeat has no legal repercussions, and Downing Street emphasized that it will not affect the Prime Minister’s approach to EU negotiations. Deputy Chairman of the ERG Steve Barker referred to the result as a “storm in a teacup”, emphasizing the fact that the previous vote was not overturned and that the Prime Minister has a very clear mandate – to go to the EU and take the backstop out.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, addressing an absent Theresa May in the House of Commons, stated that she should admit “her Brexit strategy has failed”, and should come forward with a viable plan that Parliament would approve of.

Downing Street pinned the defeat on Corbyn himself, stating that he had “yet again put partisan considerations ahead of the national interest” by voting against the motion.

Meanwhile, Business Minister Richard Harrington accused the ERG of “treachery” following reports of some of its members drinking champagne after the Prime Minister’s deal defeat. He also urged its members to join Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party, as he believes it would suit their political views better than the Conservative party.

Where now?

The business aspect of Brexit, much like the political one, appears to be rather uncertain at this point in time. It has been reported that Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox has managed to secure trade deals with only seven out of sixty-nine countries that the UK currently trades with.

This would translate to roughly 16 billion pounds in trade deals out of an expected 117 billion pounds – but what does this mean for the United Kingdom?

Part of the reason so little progress has been achieved, Fox argued, has to do with the fact that some countries have demanded Britain roll back some of its human rights standards in exchange for trade agreements to be made. The Trade, however, is not inclined to entertain this possibility, stating that “the value we attach to human rights is an important part of who we are as a country.”

Regardless of whether the UK decides to drop its standards when it comes to human rights, this shows that it is in a less advantageous bargaining position as a result of Brexit – something which may of course change as time passes, but which has so far impaired its ability to negotiate advantageous trade deals with other nations.

While answering questions about his department’s progress on trade, Fox stated that the best way to avoid economic disruption would be to ratify the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement, which would maintain Britain’s current trade deals for the two-year transitional deal. This would afford more time for further arrangements to be made.

He stated that “As with all international negotiations, and indeed any negotiations, they will go down to the wire. And I would expect nothing different from these agreements. That’s the way that countries do business”.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s chief economist Gary Gillespie has said that he believes Scotland will be hit harder economically compared to the rest of the UK, regardless of a free-trade deal being agreed.

He cited science, metals, chemicals, food and drink as being particularly at risk with potential falls in output up to 40% worse compared to the rest of Britain; also warning that disruptions to logistics, supply, trade and market confidence could result in “significant structural change in the economy.”

Scottish Government’s economic secretary Derek Makay echoed Gillespie’s comments, stating that

“Scotland’s economy continues to perform well with further growth and record low unemployment, but we cannot ignore the fact that this is being put at risk by the increasing uncertainty associated with Brexit, and in particular the risk of a no-deal scenario.

“Brexit, in whatever form, will cost jobs, make people poorer, damage our society and undermine the democratic decision of the people of Scotland to remain in the EU.”

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