12:39 GMT17 April 2021
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    BRUSSELS (Sputnik), Luc Rivet - In the absence of a majority, UK Prime Minister Theresa May decided to postpone indefinitely the ratification vote on the EU withdrawal agreement that her team concluded in Brussels two weeks ago.

    A stinging defeat was awaiting May if she had gone for the voting after over a hundred Conservative members of the parliament had threatened to vote alongside the opposition against their prime minister’s proposed Brexit deal — a total deficit of almost 200 votes.

    May preferred to retreat in front of the obstacle rather than face humiliation. On the eve of the deadline, the government announced the postponement of parliament's historic vote, scheduled for Tuesday night. Brexit is now in a total political stalemate.

    May said she had "listened carefully" to lawmakers’ criticism while repeating that her agreement was "the best that can be negotiated with the European Union."

    Backstop

    The most hotly debated issue in Westminster is about the backstop, something that could keep the country indefinitely in EU’s customs union to ensure the absence of a physical border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

    May has been urged by the Conservative party to return to confront the Europeans despite her belief that she has achieved the maximum. The prime minister met several heads of state on Tuesday.

    European Council President Donald Tusk has announced that he will call a European Council meeting on Thursday to discuss how to facilitate the deal's ratification, but ruled out renegotiating the deal, including the backstop.

    "We will also discuss our preparedness for a no-deal scenario," he warned.

    READ MORE: Analyst on May's Brexit Plan: Isn't at All Unlikely That UK Is Going to Break Up

    Janice Atkinson, a Conservative Brexiteer and vice-president of the ENL group in the European parliament told Sputnik that the backstop plan was a political rather than trade mechanism.

    "The Ireland border issue is quite simple. It operates under a separate jurisdiction now and that would continue. Customs checks can take place a long way from the border and under the Trusted Trade Scheme. The Backstop is a political EU mechanism. How do you think the rest of the world trades? If Theresa May postponed the vote to the absolute limit of 21 January, Great Britain would simply leave on WTO rules," she said.

    The prime minister’s spokesman told reporters at a lobby briefing on Tuesday that May's promise to bring the Brexit deal back to the House of Commons "before January 21" next year still stands.

    ‘Govern or Resign’

    Calls have been renewed this week for the prime minister to resign after last month’s attempt to initiate a vote of no confidence in her.

    May must "govern or resign," Tory's chief Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who instigated the failed coup, said.

    "She lost confidence and credibility here as with the European Union," his colleague Mark Francois, who is also pro-Brexit, said.

    Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour opposition, said it was an "extremely serious and unprecedented situation."

    "The government has lost control of events and is in disarray. If the Prime Minister cannot renegotiate her botched agreement, she has to go," he said.

    READ MORE: Brexit Crisis: PM May Should Resign if She Loses Confidence Vote — Committee

    Scottish government leader Nicola Sturgeon denounced May’s "lamentable cowardice" and promised to support a vote of no confidence of Labour if and when Jeremy Corbyn would launch it.

    As for May’s supposed allies of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), they are also prepared to block the deal, since for them "May’s position is impossible and not credible".

    What's Next for May

    The clock is ticking and a Brexit vote is inevitable, even if May manages to postpone it by a few weeks. She will eventually have to return from meetings with EU officials and European leaders in Brussels and face the parliament.

    Michel Liegeois from the University of Louvain’s Political Sciences Department told Sputnik that it was very difficult to speculate on what could happen to May’s government, but if she does not come back with a better plan she may be challenged by the opposition.

    "She obviously does not master a majority anymore on her Brexit deal with the EU. The opposition, mainly the Labour party of Jeremy Corbyn, has asked her to leave, but Labour has not yet introduced a motion of censorship that would automatically lead to elections. It will be the logical consequence if – as expected – Theresa May comes back empty-handed from Brussels after her Thursday meeting," he said.

    The European Court of Justice has recently stated that the United Kingdom can take back its Brexit request unilaterally, without having to ask the opinion of the other 27 member states.

    "It could be the only way forward… The new government of Her Majesty could then say for example that in the superior interest of the United Kingdom, it stops the Brexit process because the best deal obtained by Theresa May is not satisfactory, remains in the Union, and submits this solution to a new referendum, at a not specified time, when everything will have calmed down," Liegeois suggested.

    He called this solution democratically acceptable while describing the 2016 referendum on Brexit as a "historical mistake."

    As for the Brexit supporters, independent member of the European parliament Steven Woolfe said it was obvious that May’s Brexit plan would never be changed by the European Union. The only other option is a no-deal Brexit.

    "Mrs May should therefore immediately prepare for the UK to leave the EU at the end of March under World Trade Organisation rules. The talk of chaos at the Channel ports is just scaremongering," he argued.

    READ MORE: Just 19% of Brits Think PM May's Brexit Deal Honours 2016 Referendum — Poll

    Channel authorities on both sides, in UK’s Dover and in France’s Calais, said they were ready to deal with the change, Woolfe noted. He added that the United Kingdom would not have to pay 39 billion pounds ($48.8 billion) in "divorce" money, which could be spent on smoothing over any issues caused by the change to WTO rules.

    Margot Parker of the UKIP party told Sputnik the whole issue was a humiliation for May.

    "As we said all along, Britain needed a real Brexiteer in charge who could stand up to the bully boys in Brussels. For UKIP, Britain should have simply got out as soon as possible. We would have avoided this catastrophe and we would be reaping the rewards of Brexit," she stated.

    Janice Atkinson accused the prime minister of embarrassing the country before the rest of the world.

    "May is embarrassing herself and the United Kingdom on the world stage. The Conservative Party is over if they don’t remove Theresa May as leader this week," she said.

    With a hard-won compromise deal likely to end in the basket and in the absence of a serious alternative except for a no-deal Brexit, the only other option could be a snap election.

    The views and opinions expressed by the speakers do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Related:

    ‘We Have Chaos’: May’s Cancelled Brexit Vote Produces ‘Vacuum of Authority’
    Brexit Crisis: PM May Should Resign if She Loses Confidence Vote - Committee
    Just 19% of Brits Think PM May's Brexit Deal Honours 2016 Referendum – Poll
    'Shameful': Labour MP Causes Uproar by Brandishing Mace as Brexit Vote Delayed
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    support, deal, Brexit, Theresa May, United Kingdom
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