May won a vote of no confidence on Wednesday by a close margin of 19 votes, with 10 Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) votes playing a crucial role. Earlier, EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier said the risk of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal has never been so high. This came after European Council President Donald Tusk floated the idea of Britain remaining in the bloc.
Sputnik discussed the latest Brexit developments with Edgar Morgenroth, an economics professor at Dublin City University's (DCU) Business School.
Sputnik: Some media reports have called Theresa May's defeat in Parliament "the largest government defeat in history". Would you agree with this assessment? Were you surprised that Mrs. May survived the vote of no confidence?
If they had voted no confidence in the government yesterday, there would have been an election; and they don't want to take the chance to have that election and possibly see Jeremy Corbyn in power.
So, on the one hand, they don't like her and what she has done — there's a large group that doesn't like what she has done — on the other hand, the alternative is even worse for them. So, we have found ourselves in a very peculiar situation politically in the UK.
Sputnik: What are May's options now?
Edgar Morgenroth: They are relatively limited, and this is one thing that in the debate in the UK is also often not quite understood. She can obviously do things. She could potentially try and stop Brexit altogether; that is a possibility — the UK can unilaterally withdraw from the Brexit process. That won't make a very large number of critics within her party happy.
That might be to have a general election, which she doesn't seem to want, or to have a referendum on the Brexit deal that has been negotiated, which she also doesn't want.
A lot of people are talking about re-negotiating with the EU but that assumes that the EU wants to re-negotiate. So, the options are relatively limited for her and it's really a big mess. The EU side at this point is kind of an innocent by-stander who are really dependent on what happens in the UK. The solution to the problem is to be found in London and only in London.
Sputnik: You mentioned a second referendum, and some experts say that in this difficult situation a second referendum is the best way out. What are your thoughts on that?
Edgar Morgenroth: I'm not convinced by that, for the simple reason that the opinion polls suggest that there might have been a swing towards Remain in the public opinion; it's not going to be an overwhelming vote to stay in the EU.
So, we're really just flipping the results from the previous referendum around, but it's not a decisive vote. A large percentage of UK citizens would then feel betrayed; so, you still have this division within the UK. Unless it was a decisive vote with maybe 70 percent or so voting to remain, which is very unlikely, it would not eliminate the upheaval within the UK.
Going for the vote itself seems to be something that a lot of, particularly the Brexiteers, those that are really unhappy with the deal, don't want. It's not necessarily going to satisfy them either. Again, it's difficult to see easy options here.
Sputnik: Is Mrs. May likely to agree to the major changes to her deal requested by the parliamentarians? What happens if she doesn't?
Edgar Morgenroth: The UK side can propose all manner of changes and no doubt she would love to change all sorts of bits from the agreement, not least the so-called Irish backstop.
The problem they have is that they're going to have to get the EU to agree to this. And the EU is very unlikely to agree to any substantial changes unless, as Michel Barnier, the chief negotiator of the EU side, has pointed out, the UK changes some of its red lines. And what he was referring to, in particular, is the UK's desire to leave both the single market and the customs union.
If the UK were to stay within the single market and the customs union, then one could talk about eliminating the Irish backstop and it wouldn't be necessary to have that backstop there. So, there isn't going to be anything on offer for free to the UK.
Again, it leaves us wondering whether it's possible to solve this problem at all, or whether the UK actually ends up crashing out without an exit agreement.
Sputnik: France has put in motion a contingency plan to deal with an eventual hard Brexit. Do you think we might see a no-deal scenario?
Countries in general, particularly those that have borders with the UK — Ireland is the only one with a land border, but France, Belgium and the Netherlands also have connections via the sea with the UK — will have to make those contingency plans.
Ultimately, we might see, at least in the short run, once the UK leaves, quite a bit of disruption in terms of travel and movement of goods until these kinds of procedures are properly worked through.
Sputnik: How high are the chances that London will stay?
Edgar Morgenroth: Not very high I would say, basically, because there doesn't seem to be a majority in the House of Commons at this point that wants to stay. In particular, the very noisy extreme Brexiteers are going to make it very difficult.
There was a vote, a referendum, that's it; we will leave. And it's very difficult, without another referendum, to say that they are going to stay.
That would point towards having to hold a referendum and then act on that. I don't think either is likely; I think at the moment the most likely scenario is that the UK will leave without a deal.
The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.