Brexit: What just happened and what happens next?

Brexit: What just happened and what happens next?

Another day, another critical moment for Brexit.

On Tuesday evening, British MPs voted on what they want to get out of the deal to leave the European Union.

It may not be clear what just happened in the British parliament, so we tried to explain it all here.

The story in 100 words

The UK will leave the European Union on 29 March but British MPs still can’t agree how.

Prime Minister Theresa May is desperate for them to back a deal she struck and on Tuesday, they got the chance to make their own proposals for how the deal should look.

Most proposals didn’t get the support of the majority of MPs, but a key one did.

This amendment means Mrs May has to return to the EU and try to negotiate a new deal (to sort out what kind of border there will be with Ireland).

The issue? The EU says it already negotiated a deal, and won’t do so again.

The story in 600 words

What’s the background?

There are only two months to go until Brexit and the British government still hasn’t decided on what terms it should leave the European Union.

Tuesday’s events risk muddling the process even more.

What time will Brexit votes be? What are MPs voting on?

Brexit: MPs preparing to vote on amendments to PM’s deal…!

Let’s rewind to November 2018, when it looked like major progress had been made.

In the two years after 52% of voters said they wanted the UK to leave, the British government and the EU were locked in negotiations on the terms of Brexit.

Then, in November, Mrs May and EU leaders finally agreed a deal, and she said the British public did not “want to spend any more time arguing about Brexit”.

The deal had to be approved by the British parliament, but it was a tough sell to some members of her own Conservative party (more on that below), and they rejected it two weeks ago in one of the biggest defeats a government has seen.

Presentational white space

What happened on Tuesday?

MPs across all parties had a chance to suggest amendments to her deal, and vote on those too.

In the end, MPs were allowed to vote on seven amendments, most of which didn’t pass.

But two of them did pass:

1) Renegotiate the Irish border

The deal Mrs May struck in Brussels ensured that there would not be a “hard border” between Ireland and Northern Ireland. This measure is called the backstop.

This is the only place that has a border between the UK and the EU. No “hard border” would mean that goods would still be able to cross the border without checks.

But this prospect has gone down badly with the influential hardline Brexit supporters in Mrs May’s Conservative Party who want a clean break with Europe.

On Tuesday, a majority of MPs said they now wanted a new deal, one that made changes to the backstop.

This is far easier said than done.

Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics
Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics

2) Avoid “no deal”

A majority of MPs also backed another amendment that rejected the UK leaving the EU without a deal (we explain why “no deal” worries people a little later).

At least now we know where most MPs stand on this issue, but it doesn’t really change anything: it’s not as though they’ve suggestedhow they hope to avoid leaving without a deal.

Nor is this move legally binding: a no-deal Brexit could still happen.

What happens next?

Who knows?

In theory, Theresa May now has a mandate to ask the EU for new talks on the backstop.

The problem is the EU doesn’t want to, and doesn’t see any reason why it should our Europe editor Katya Adler has more detail on that here It says the whole backstop issue has already been dealt with.

Troops could return to Irish border, warns Varadkar

So if the EU doesn’t want to reopen negotiations, and the British parliament can’t find a compromise, what happens?

We’d be facing a “hard Brexit”: the UK would crash out of the EU on 29 March with no deal.

This means the UK would leave suddenly, with no transition.

There are real concerns over the damage a “no deal” could do : it could cause delays in bringing food and materials into the UK, and the price of some goods in British shops could shoot up.

Bear in mind that the EU now also knows that a majority of British MPs don’t want “no deal” to happen. This might strengthen their hand in any purely hypothetical negotiations that might take place.

Quick guide: What is a no-deal Brexit?
A “no-deal” Brexit is where the UK would cut ties with the European Union overnight without a transition period.
Theresa May’s government, and many others, believe this would be hugely damaging and want a more gradual withdrawal. But if Parliament can’t agree on that, and nothing else takes its place, the UK will leave without a deal.
This would mean the UK would not have to obey EU rules. Instead, it would need to follow World Trade Organization terms on trade. Many businesses would see new taxes on imports, exports and services, which are likely to increase their operating costs. That means the prices of some goods in UK shops could go up.
The UK would also lose the trade agreements it had with other countries as a member of the EU, all of which would need to be renegotiated alongside the new agreement with the EU itself.
Manufacturers in the UK expect to face delays in components coming across the border.
The UK would be free to set its own immigration controls. However some UK professionals working in the EU and UK expats could face uncertainty until their status was clarified. The European Commission has said that even in a no-deal scenario, UK travellers won’t need a visa for short visits of up to 90 days.
The border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic would become an external frontier for the EU with customs and immigration controls, though how and where any checks would be made is not clear.
Some Leave supporters think that leaving without a deal would be positive if the right preparations were made. They say criticism is scaremongering and any short term pain would be for long term gain.
But critics – including both Brexit supporters and opponents – say that leaving without a deal would be a disaster for the UK: driving up food prices, leading to shortages of goods and gridlock on some roads in the South East resulting from extra border checks.

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