Brexit deal is 'dead' - what has been the reaction?

The Houses of Parliament seen from across the River Thames in London
British MPs last night voted 432 to 2020 to reject the negotiated deal

With rights of Britons in EU countries like France plunged into uncertainty by the MPs' vote to reject the deal there are renewed calls for ring-fencing of citizens’ rights – and for a People’s Vote including the option to Remain.

After last night saw the deal negotiated between the UK and EU resoundingly voted down, campaigners for rights of Britons in France have urged a last-ditch effort by both sides to salvage the rights elements of the deal. They say this would be better than risking the stress of people finding themselves without rights on March 30 and dependent on different national arrangements in 27 states.

Meanwhile calls are growing for people to have a final say, with Remain on the ballot – according to campaigners the only way in which all of Britons’ rights in the EU, including continuing free movement, could be retained.

Connexion has spoken to the co-chairwoman of pan-European rights coalition British in Europe, the vice-chairman of the British Community Committee of France (BCC) and Lord Ricketts, the former British Ambassador to France.

British in Europe co-chairwoman Fiona Godrey, a British lawyer from Luxembourg, said: “We are standing on the edge of a cliff looking into the abyss with no idea what our rights will be in 72 days.

“We were encouraged by the response of a cross-party group of MEPs last night – with lots of them calling for ring-fencing and protection of citizens’ rights. Our worry is that there was no indication from Theresa May that she is willing to make an offer to the EU, even though she rather cynically said after the vote that Britons in the EU and EU citizens in Britain need certainty and clarity.

“There was also no suggestion from Juncker or Tusk and there was a coordinated response from heads of state that they need to step up their no-deal preparations.”

However she said BiE has “not given up” and will be working with MEPs to persuade the UK and EU, and sending a letter to Donald Tusk and the EU heads of state.

She added: “I think Jeremy Corbyn will lose the vote of no confidence tonight and we hope that afterwards there will be a cross-party coalition that forces the question of a People’s Vote onto the agenda. And if there is one, Britons in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK must be included in the franchise because to do otherwise would be a travesty of democracy.”

The UK simply revoking article 50 would be the “easiest and simplest way of securing our rights,” but would be politically complicated, she said.

“We all need clarity. If the deal had been voted through we would at least have had that, even though it is not perfect. On balance our members are happy there is still a chance we will remain, but the closer we get to a no-deal people will be very worried.”

British Community Committee of France vice-chairman Christopher Chantrey said: “All of the things that we’ve been talking to Brussels and the UK’s Brexit Ministry about over the last two years are now in the bin. We are nowhere. All we’ve got is the arrangements that – so we are told – will be made by France. We’re in the hands of the states where we live, and their goodwill.”

With regard to safeguarding matters like British state pensions and pensioners’ healthcare in a no-deal, he said: “There’s no time to arrange anything – not to do 27 bilateral deals.”

Former British Ambassador to France Lord Ricketts told Connexion he is also backing a People’s Vote. “I think now everyone can see what Brexit would actually mean, that it’s essential we ask people: is that what you want? Or some improved version of the Prime Minister’s plan? Or shall we just stay in?”

He said last night was “one of the largest majorities against the government ever, and there was no sign of MPs rallying to the Prime Minister at the end”. Her remarks afterwards were “curiously unrepentant and not quite measuring the scale of what had happened”.

However he said she will probably rally her party behind her for tonight’s no-confidence vote, and win, after which she must present a ‘Plan B’ by Monday. If she loses, however, that will trigger an election and the government will probably ask the EU to delay Brexit for it, Lord Ricketts said.

He added: “I think the options are narrowing. Clearly May’s deal is dead, so it would have to be either a People’s Vote or a Norway-style deal – something more or less off-the-shelf from the EU with some of the red-lines rubbed out.

“I think the route to a People’s Vote would be discussions among the political parties and potentially the government accepting it has to try a new approach, or going back to Brussels and being rebuffed again. There has to be further process, out of which there still is no Commons majority and then perhaps a People’s Vote becomes possible.”

It was very unlikely a majority of MPs would vote to cancel Brexit without one, he said.

Lord Ricketts said he thinks the plan announced on Monday – assuming Mrs May wins the vote of no-confidence – will be to hold discussions with other party leaders and assess what changes to go back to Brussels and press for. “It will leave everything gloriously uncertain because Brussels aren’t going to countenance any substantive changes.”

As for Britons’ rights in France in the event of no-deal, he said he hopes the EU would allow “interim arrangements”  so as to “roll things on for a short period of a few months, for the status quo to continue while bilateral arrangements are worked out for the long-term” [however such a plan has not so far been confirmed by the EU or France].

  •  For more details on Brexit see the February edition of The Connexion newspaper, out next week.

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