British PM Theresa May loses vote on no-deal Brexit powers

The UK Parliament has narrowly approved a bill that would limit government tax-raising powers in the event of a no-deal scenario. The government said it would make no difference to Britain leaving the EU on March 29.

Lawmakers in the British House of Commons have voted 303-296 to back a Finance Bill amendment that would prohibit government spending on no-deal measures that Parliament does not authorize.

The result is a setback for Prime Minister Theresa May's government, which would have its tax-raising powers trimmed in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU without a dealon March 29. Twenty members of May's Conservative Party are understood to have voted against the government. 

"This vote is an important step to prevent a no-deal Brexit," said Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party. "It shows that there is no majority in Parliament, the Cabinet or the country for crashing out of the EU without an agreement."

The government has played down the importance of the defeat, saying it would address taxation issues as the need arose.

"This amendment does not change the fact that the UK is leaving the EU on ...29 March, and it will not stop the government from collecting tax," a government spokesman said.

"We will work with Parliament to make sure that the tax system works smoothly in all Brexit scenarios."

Read more: Brexiteers in Ramsgate: 'Just get on with it'

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Brexit: Britons prepare for the worst

May struggles to find support

May is seeking parliamentary approval for her EU withdrawal deal in a vote slated for January 15. However, she is struggling to win over lawmakers from both her own party and the opposition.

May also faces resistance from the tiny Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose 10 seats her minority government relies upon for a working parliamentary majority.

The prime minister has said she is seeking further assurances from Brussels over the most controversial element of the deal — the so-called Northern Irish "backstop." However, the EU has said it is not prepared to renegotiate the withdrawal deal.

The backstop guarantees against the return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the event the UK diverges from the EU on regulatory standards — a stipulation insisted upon by EU-member state Ireland. Such a guarantee would essentially place the UK and EU in a joint customs territory that London would be unable to unilaterally leave without allowing standards between Britain and Northern Ireland to diverge.

Related Subjects


June 2016: 'The will of the British people'

After a shrill referendum campaign, nearly 52 percent of British voters opted to leave the EU on June 24. Polls had shown a close race before the vote with a slight lead for those favoring remaining in the EU. Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for Britain to stay, acknowledged the 'will of the British people' and resigned the following morning.


July 2016: 'Brexit means Brexit'

Former Home Secretary Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister on July 11 and promised the country that "Brexit means Brexit." May had quietly supported the remain campaign before the referendum. She did not initially say when her government would trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty to start the two-year talks leading to Britain's formal exit.


March 2017: 'We already miss you'

May eventually signed a diplomatic letter over six months later on March 29, 2017 to trigger Article 50. Hours later, Britain's ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, handed the note to European Council President Donald Tusk. Britain's exit was officially set for March 29, 2019. Tusk ended his brief statement on the decision with: "We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye."


June 2017: And they're off!

British Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, kicked off talks in Brussels on June 19. The first round ended with Britain reluctantly agreeing to follow the EU's timeline for the rest of the negotiations. The timeline split talks into two phases. The first settles the terms of Britain's exit and the second the terms of the EU-UK relationship post-Brexit.


July-October 2017: Money, rights, and Ireland

The second round of talks in mid-July began with an unflattering photo of a seemingly unprepared British team. It and subsequent rounds ended with little progress on three phase one issues: How much Britain still needed to pay into the EU budget after it leaves, the post-Brexit rights of EU and British citizens, and whether Britain could keep an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.


November 2017: May pays out?

Progress appeared to have been made after round six in early November with Britain reportedly agreeing to pay up to £50 billion (€57 billion/$68 billion) for the "divorce bill." May had earlier said she was only willing to pay €20 billion, while the EU had calculated some €60 billion euros. Reports of Britain's concession sparked outrage among pro-Brexit politicians and media outlets.


December 2017: Go-ahead for phase two

Leaders of the remaining 27 EU members formally agreed that "sufficient progress" had been made to move on to phase 2 issues: the post-Brexit transition period and the future UK-EU trading relationship. While May expressed her delight at the decision, European Council President Tusk ominously warned that the second stage of talks would be "dramatically difficult."


July 2018: Boris and David resign

British ministers appeared to back a Brexit plan at May's Chequers residence on July 6. The proposal would have kept Britain in a "combined customs territory" with the EU and signed up to a "common rulebook" on all goods. That went too far for British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary Davis. They resigned a few days later. May replaced them with Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab.


September 2018: No cherries for Britain

The Chequers proposal did not go down well either with EU leaders, who told her at a summit in Salzburg in late September that it was unacceptable. EU Council President Tusk trolled May on Instagram, where he captioned a picture of himself and May looking at cakes with the line: "A piece of cake perhaps? Sorry, no cherries." The gag echoed previous EU accusations of British cherry-picking.


November 2018: Breakthrough in Brussels

EU leaders endorsed a 585-page draft divorce deal and political declaration on post-Brexit ties in late November. The draft was widely condemned by pro- and anti-Brexit lawmakers in the British Parliament only weeks earlier. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned along with several other ministers, and dozens of Conservative Party members tried to trigger a no-confidence vote in May.


December 2018: May survives rebellion

In the face of unrelenting opposition, May postponed a parliamentary vote on the deal on December 10. The next day, she met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to seek reassurances that would, she hoped, be enough to convince skeptical lawmakers to back the deal. But while she was away, hard-line Conservative lawmakers triggered a no-confidence vote. May won the vote a day later.


January 2019: Agreement voted down

UK parliament 432 to 202 against May's Brexit deal in a parliamentary vote on January 16. In response to the result, European Council President Donald Tusk suggested the only solution was for the UK to stay in the EU. Meanwhile, Britain's Labour Party called for a vote of no confidence in May, her second leadership challenge in as many months.

rc/cmk (Reuters, AFP)

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