Written by: Sit Jie Ren (19-I4)
Designed by: Athena Lim (19-A4)
Brexit has become a media circus this year, and a recurrent topic of public debate. However, not many fully understand the situation and reasons behind the House of Commons’ repeated rejections of the various Brexit deals which have been proposed. This article will examine 2 of them in depth so that Eunoians can become informed citizens of the world. Do use the Universal Concepts (UCs) to guide you.
Following Britain’s monumental decision to leave the European Union, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, negotiated a deal with European leaders over the course of several years, which culminated in a 600 page ‘Brexit Deal’. However, when this deal was put before the House of Commons, it was rejected a total of 3 times, with the votes returning a resounding no. (202-432, 242-391, 286-344) (BBC, 2019a) 2 rounds of voting on multiple alternative options proposed by various MPs also failed to gain any traction in the British Parliament, with the closest vote, Option C, short of a mere 3 votes (BBC, 2019c). The repeated inability of the British Parliament to pass a Brexit deal or option has led some to believe that Britain has lost control over Brexit proceedings. As a result of the failure for a deal to be produced, the Brexit date has been repeatedly revised and postponed, and it now stands at 31 October 2019 (BBC, 2019a).
Points of Contention
The Meaningful Vote: Theresa May’s Deal – Irish Backstop (UC: Conflict and Consensus)
One of the key points of contention surrounding Theresa May’s Brexit Deal is the Irish backstop agreement.
When Irish rebels fought against the Royal Army and declared Irish independence in 1918, the British managed to hold on to the region of Ulster, which is now commonly known as Northern Ireland. The resulting “hard” border led to a long conflict between the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and Britain, spanning from 1968 to 1989. The conflict culminated in the “Good Friday Agreement” which created a ceasefire and the removal of border controls. There have been fears that a reinstated “hard” border could result in a resurgence of violence (please refer to our article, HAW History Special: Troubling Troubles in North Ireland for more details).
To avoid the return of the Irish “hard” border, Theresa May’s deal proposes the implementation of a backstop agreement. Under the backstop, Britain would remain under the EU single market under a transitional period until December 2020. Should no solution be found by then, Britain would exit the single market, but Northern Ireland would remain in the single market, albeit with some rules exempted. This brought huge backlash as it essentially meant that goods travelling from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland would have to pass through customs checks, and imposing what amounts to effectual customs arrangements within the United Kingdom (Campbell, 2019). House of Commons MPs have lambasted the deal for “threatening the union (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)” and the Democratic Unionist Party (a political party based in Ireland) has repeatedly called for the backstop to be removed.
Motion C: Customs Union – Ken Clarke (UC: Systems, Structures & Freedoms)
In the indicative votes, various Members of Parliament proposed various alternative Brexit options. The Customs Union proposal, proposed by Conservative MP Ken Clarke, was the closest to achieving a majority in the House of Commons, being rejected by a vote of 273-276, short of 3 votes (BBC, 2019c).
Under the proposed Brexit Option, Britain would leave the EU but remain in Customs Union, which means that there would be minimal to no checks along British borders. Goods will be allowed to trade between Britain and other EU countries customs free and duty-free. One of the key reasons Britons voted ‘Leave’ in the referendum was to regain control of their own rules and regulations instead of the EU’s. This option was quickly accused of betraying the results of the referendum by the ‘Leave’ camp as it continued to retain ties with the EU, and that this deal binds Britain to EU trade regulations, as goods imported from outside the EU will be subject to a common tariff, set by the EU (European Commission, n.d.).
Theresa May has since announced her resignation following mounting pressure from her party, and the public over her failure to deliver a Brexit deal on time. The Conservatives are now in the midst of a leadership race, with several notable competitors such as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. Her successor will be elected on 22 July 2019 (BBC, 2019e).
For more in-depth reading about this issue, feel free to access the following links.
Serhan, Y. (2019, March 28). In a Bid to ‘Take Back Control,’ Britain Lost It. The Atlantic, Retrieved from
Campbell, J. (2019, April 5). Brexit: What is the Irish border backstop? BBC, Retrieved from
European Commission (n.d.). EU Customs Union. Retrieved from
BBC (2019, March 30a). Brexit: MPs reject May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement. Retrieved from
BBC (2019, April 1b). Brexit: What alternative plans did MPs vote on? Retrieved from
BBC (2019, April 1c). How did my MP vote on Brexit indicative votes? Retrieved from
BBC (2019, April 11d). Brexit: UK and EU agree delay to 31 October. Retrieved from
BBC (2019, June 7e). Theresa May officially steps down as Tory leader. Retrieved from