London: British Prime Minister Theresa May faces crushing defeat in a historic vote in parliament on Tuesday over the Brexit deal she has struck with the European Union, leaving the world’s fifth biggest economy in limbo.
With just over two months to go until the scheduled Brexit date of March 29, Britain is still bitterly divided over what should happen next and the only suspense over the vote is the scale of May’s defeat.
The British leader’s last-minute appeals to MPs appear to have fallen on deaf ears and how much she loses by could determine whether she tries again, loses office, delays Brexit or if Britain even leaves the EU at all.
“When the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this house... and ask: did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the European Union,” May asked MPs on the eve of the vote, the results of which are expected around 2015 GMT.
Opposition to the deal forced May to postpone the vote in December in the hope of winning concessions from Brussels.
EU leaders have offered only a series of clarifications but German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Strasbourg on Tuesday raised the possibility of further talks while ruling out a full re-negotiation of the text. “Everything has been done in recent weeks and months to signal our interest in a positive decision,” Maas said.
“However, I am sceptical that the agreement can be fundamentally reopened once again,” he said.
The vote is the climax of over two years of intense national debate after the shock Brexit referendum of 2016 a result mostly pro-Remain MPs have struggled with. Hardline Brexiteers and Remainers oppose the agreement for different reasons and many fear it could lock Britain into an unfavourable trading relationship with the EU.
Pro- and anti-Brexit campaigners rallied outside parliament as the last day of debate kicked off around 1300 GMT. One placard read “EU Membership is the Best Deal”, another said: “No Deal? No Problem!”
Financial markets will also be watching the result closely, with several currency trading companies roping in extra staff for the vote and at least one putting a cap on trades to avoid excessive currency movements. “Today’s vote is a foregone conclusion so sterling is unlikely to move significantly,” said Rebecca O’Keeffe, an analyst with online trader Interactive Investor.
“The fireworks will happen after today when it is clear what happens next,” she said, predicting that a decision not to leave the EU would send sterling shooting up while a no-deal Brexit would send it down to record lows....