The British parliament was due to vote tomorrow (Tuesday) on the deal that prime minister Theresa May arrived at with the EU negotiators but today she canceled the vote. She said that she was doing so because she realized that it would lose badly. It is not unusual for the party in power to cancel a vote on a bill but it is rare that it does so after the debate on it is well underway, as it was the case here where three days of debate had passed and 164 MPs had spoken. It shows a bad miscalculation on the part of May and her chief whip and constitutes a serious loss of credibility.
Her speech in parliament announcing the decision was met with scornful laughter.
So what’s next? May says that she will negotiate a better deal with the EU that would be more palatable to parliament but since she had been heavily selling the current deal as the best one that the UK could possibly get, that promise seems exceedingly unlikely to be fulfilled unless the EU takes pity on her misery and throws her a bone. They have little incentive to do so given that they want to avoid any country exiting the EU at all, so why make it easier for the UK?
The main sticking point has been the status of Northern Ireland, and how to create a customs and tariffs barrier between the UK and the EU without a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
This problem would go away if Northern Ireland decided to separate itself from the UK and join up with Ireland, thus ending a relic of British imperialism that created that separation. Given the bitter history between the two, this seems highly unlikely in the near future. The Protestants of NI may want to retain the majority status that they would lose if they joined up with majority Catholic Ireland and may also feel that there are economic and political benefits to remaining within the UK, as well as thinking of themselves as more British than Irish.
But I wonder if a realignment may become more appealing as time goes by. As both regions become less religious the way Europe in general is becoming, the religious division may become less salient. Also, if some Brexit deal is arrived at that keeps NI in the UK and out of the EU, there may come a time when the benefits of being in the EU outweigh the benefits of being part of the UK, thus causing the people of NI to change their views.
But that is not going to happen anytime soon, and definitely not in the short time frame that May has to arrive at some kind of deal. She is in a real bind.