In a crushing blow to hopes for an uncomplicated Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the EU27 and Theresa May’s government was overwhelmingly defeated in the UK House of Commons. After the vote was initially postponed from December, Theresa May’s attempts to rally support for her deal were futile and the agreement was rejected on a 432 to 202 margin.
Despite statements from the EU27 indicating there would be no further concessions on the matter, the Irish backstop was the major stumbling block for the deal. Members of the Conservative Party backbenches and Labour Party members indicated that they could not accept the backstop as it stood in the Withdrawal Agreement. It seems unlikely that any form of agreement would pass a parliamentary vote without changes to the backstop, changes which the EU27 have explicitly ruled out.
The result not only leaves the negotiated agreement dead in the water from a UK perspective, it also opens the door for a range of potential outcomes, each of which brings unknowns. These potential results range from the more severe, such as a “no deal” Brexit occurring to reassessments of the Brexit path, such as a time extension of the Brexit deadline beyond 29 March 2019 or a second referendum on Brexit. A re-opening of negotiations, with a view to another House of Commons vote, is also open.
Reacting to the rejection, EU27 Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier stated that he “profoundly regrets" the results, given that the near two years of negotiation were "based on the red lines of the British government". EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged the UK to "clarify its intentions as soon as possible” and stated that “time is almost up”. Following the vote, the Irish Government also confirmed that it was making preparations for a “disorderly” Brexit.