RECAP: May’s deal crushed as Europe reacts and UK nationals in Europe remain in limbo

Theresa May's Brexit deal has been defeated, with more than two thirds of British MPs voting against the deal.

RECAP: May's deal crushed as Europe reacts and UK nationals in Europe remain in limbo
Protesters with Union and EU flags are seen outside the Houses of Parliament in central London on January 15, 2019. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP.

Good evening. After postponing the vote on December 11th last year, Theresa May's Brexit deal, known as the Withdrawal Agreement, the tentative deal struck by her government and the EU which outlines the framework of the UK's departure from the bloc after 40 years of membership, has led to a crushing and historic defeat for the UK government. 

More than two thirds of MPs voted against the deal: 202 voted for it, 432 against it. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour party tabled a motion of no-confidence which will be discussed tomorrow. 

Below are reactions, commentaries and insights from key players and stakeholders across the EU27 before and after the crushing vote.

  • MPs vote 432 to 202 to reject Brexit deal in historic defeat for Theresa May
  • Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tables a no-confidence motion which will be debated in parliament tomorrow
  • Citizens' rights groups watch on anxiously as their rights hang in limbo
  • EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker issues statement saying “contingency work” for no-deal Brexit will continue. 
  • Chambers of commerce, trade lobbies, politicians and media from across the EU27 continue to express concerns about a no-deal exit on March 29th.  
  • Without the Withdrawal Agreement, the rights of UK nationals in Europe will only be secured after March 29th if member states implement legislation or motions to safeguard them

21:28 Supporters of citizens' rights call for EU-wide ringfencing


“Following the largest defeat of any government in over 100 years, Theresa May said only that EU citizens in the UK and British nationals in the EU deserve clarity as to their future and their rights. But she singularly failed to offer any plan as to how to achieve that,” British in Italy spokeswoman Delia Dumaresq told The Local. 

“Our citizens' rights that have already been negotiated and agreed between the UK and EU could so easily be ring-fenced (protected). Theresa May has offered nothing – not even an extension to the Article 50 period in order to discuss such a proposition with Europe,” added Dumaresq. 


The EU Commission has issued a statement which does not suggest it is hopeful a new deal can be struck. 

“The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the UK has increased with this evening's vote. While we do not want this to happen, we will continue our contingency work to help ensure EU is fully prepared,” Juncker said in a statement shortly after the vote. 

21:04 Donald Tusk: What is the “solution”?

The European Council President Donald Tusk seems to be pulling out his hair as to how to unblock the Brexit impasse.

20:50 Biggest defeat for a century


“A no-deal Brexit would reactivate bureaucracy and customs tariffs causing great difficulty for exporters,” says Italy's Confindustria. 

20:48 The no-confidence motion will be debated in parliament tomorrow. 

20:45 Corbyn tables no-confidence motion!

He points out this is the biggest government defeat since the 1920s. “No deal must be taken off the table,” he says. 

20:42 May is now fighting for her political career

She pledges various approaches to “secure the backing of the house,” including more talks with the EU. 

May says EU citizens living in the EU need clarity now. 

20:39 202 Yes votes – 432 no votes


20:30 Vote has begun

MPs are now voting. We will be bringing you the results soon. 

20:26 Amendment on termination of backstop rejected

MPs have voted down the so-called John Baron Amendment, which would have allowed the UK government to unilaterally terminate the backstop. If the numbers are anything to go by, 600 no to 24 yes, then we could be in a for a night of extreme margins. 

20:20 And while we wait…


Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz poured scorn on the political viability of a second referendum.

“The debate on a second referendum is being waged among journalists and even among some politicians in Brussels, but in the UK, at least among politicians, this debate is hardly being pursued,” Kurz said at the EU parliament in Strasbourg, reports German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. 

20:04 The debates are over.  Now to the vote, which is expected imminently. Stay tuned for more updates soon. 

20:01 May has stopped talking

Regardless of whether the deal is defeated or not, May is still attempting to convince her peers. “We each have a solemn responsibility to deliver Brexit and take this country forward,” says May. 

19:57 May urges MPs to vote for her deal and the “duty to deliver on the referendum vote”

“This is the most significant vote than any of us will be part of in our political careers,” British Prime Minister Theresa May tells the House of Commons during the final exchanges in the debates before the key Brexit vote. 

19:44 German parliament listens to concerns from Brits in Europe group

While all eyes are on the UK parliament, British in Europe co-chair Jane Golding gave evidence at the German parliament, the Bundestag. 

19:34 Parliament will vote on four amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement before actually voting on the WA itself. 

More light entertainment: VIEW FROM HOLLAND

“I’m sure your readers will love this song from Claudia de Breij, a Dutch comedian/singer. Lyrics written by her and based on Roger Whittaker’s song The Last Farewell,” Jean-Pierre Bollen tells us by email from the Netherlands.

19:10 Light entertainment before the storm

MPs are expected to place their votes around 7pm UK time, so around 8pm in Berlin, Paris, Madrid or Rome or 2pm if you're following from across the Atlantic in New York.

If you are in the EU, these insights from British television might just help you explain Brexit to your confused European neighbours


Those gathered outside parliament are braving the cold to hear the outcome in what some are describing as a historic night in British politics. 

18:56 “Brexit should mean Brexit.” 

One French journalist was bemused by how swiftly a Tory MP was able to sum up his stance on Brexit in eighteen seconds, even though the issue still baffles so many.

“Because Brexit should mean Brexit, and no deal is better than this bad deal, I shall vote no, no and no,” Tory MP Julian Lewis said in today's ongoing debates in the House of Commons preceding this evening's vote. 


Germany most exposed EU nation to no-deal after UK

Around 750,000 German jobs are linked to trade with the United Kingdom, said Eric Schweitzer, president of the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, reports Munich-daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

To find out more about how Brexit is set to affect Germany, see our in-depth feature on UK-German trade below.

READ ALSO: Why Brexit is a double-edged sword for Germany: Special report

18:42 The citizens' rights long read

For those looking to catch up on how groups of UK nationals across Europe came together to create a citizens' rights movement, we have a three-part dossier on the rise of the British in Europe campaign group.

Part One – How a group of Brits took up a struggle for millions of their co-citizens

Part Two – Battling Brexit: How a group of Brits in Europe took on the fight for citizens' rights

Part Three – How Brexit and the fight for rights united Britons from across Europe

18:32 Ode to membership: A Brit in Europe tells her story

“We were working in the Netherlands when UK joined EU, then on to Belgium,” Patricia Parry, a British national who has lived in five EU countries since 1967, tells The Local by email. “Here we got to see at close hand the benefits of the great experiment,” she says. 


As everyone anxiously awaits the vote, protests for and against Brexit are taking place in Westminster near the UK parliament today.

An anti-Brexit activist wrapped in an EU flag stands with other protestors as they demonstrate outside of the Houses of Parliament in central London on January 15, 2019.  Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP.

Photo: AFP.

Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP. 


No-deal Brexit would hurt UK but also EU, says Portugal's finance minister

On a no-deal, Mário Centeno, Portugal's minister of finance, told Portuguese daily Diario de Noticias: “I do not think we should consider this scenario as a possible scenario. I genuinely hope that we can all avoid it. It is clear that at this point the issue is more on the side of the United Kingdom than on the side of Europe.” 

“There is great concern about the impact of such an exit in Ireland, the Netherlands and then in most euro area countries,” added Centeno. 


Spanish government yet to publish no-deal guidelines for UK nationals

Brits in Spain remain concerned that the February deadline the Spanish government has set itself to publish its own guidelines for UK nationals living there is later than necessary.

Spain has said it will also create legislation to secure a rights package for Brits living in the Iberian country. Yet the largest community of Brits in any EU country – there are officially 314,000 Brits in Spain although by some estimates that number is much higher – want to know “what they will do with us if there's no deal,” Michael Harris from Madrid-based citizens' rights lobby group EuroCitizens told The Local. 

“The British community needs to know sooner rather than later how this change will be made and what documentation Brits will have to provide to be able to continue residing legally,” states a December 2018 report by EuroCitizens and British in Europe.

READ ALSO: Brits in Spain hope for dual citizenship legislation in 2019


Austria is the latest EU country preparing to publish safeguards for UK nationals in the event of a no-deal. 

17:46 Indeed. Who is going to budge? 


While UK nationals across the EU await news of how they should prepare for their future status in each host European state, British nationals in Switzerland have been told their rights will be secured by a bilateral agreement between the Alpine nation and the UK. 

The agreement, which still needs to be ratified by the British and Swiss parliaments, affects around 43,000 UK citizens living in Switzerland and 34,500 Swiss nationals living in the UK.

It means that these two groups “will be able to continue enjoying broadly the same rights as they do now”, according to a statement from the UK’s Department for Exiting the European Union.

READ ALSO: Switzerland and UK forge post-Brexit citizens' rights agreement

17:22 German car lobby: no-deal would lead to “massive impairments in logistics”

Export of German cars to the UK have been down since 2016. The latest data shows that exports of German cars to the UK in 2018 declined 6 per cent, slowly “showing the signs of the Brexit vote,” Stefanie Hennig-Senft, a spokeswoman for the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), a German car lobby which represents companies like Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen, told The Local by email.

German car manufacturers have a lot to fear from the additional costs and logistical headaches caused by the UK leaving the economic and political block without a regulatory agreement. Put simply, it would disrupt intricately-bound transboundary supply chains.

 “The exit agreement provides for Britain's continued presence in the Customs Union and the Internal Market. This would ensure continued supply chains on both sides of the English Channel. Without agreement, there is no transitional period,” VDA wrote in a statement. “These two years however are needed to find workable solutions to the future relationship between the EU and the UK. A hard Brexit would be the worst case. It would immediately hit the automotive supply chains. Massive impairments in logistics and high customs costs would be the result,” adds the statement.  

769,000 German cars were exported to the UK in 2017, according to data from the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA). Exports in 2018 were down six per cent.  Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP.

17:05 Citizens' rights groups call for “ringfencing” as EU nations issue guidelines for Brits

The spectre of how a no-deal exit by the UK could affect the country's citizens living in the EU continues to drive citizens' rights groups, who are calling for “ringfencing” of current treaty rights on all sides as the solution. 

This would mean that British nationals who are already resident in EU countries before March 29th this year, when the UK becomes a third country for EU purposes if it departs the bloc without a deal, would be able to continue to live their lives with some degree of similarity to how they currently do. 

Some countries have already published guidelines or offered reassurances as to how they treat British nationals, including SwedenItaly, Germany, Denmark and France. In most cases, these are dependent on the Uk reciprocating the rights for EU nationals in the UK.

Poland and Czech Republic are the latest countries to announce measures that will safeguard certain residency and employment rights for UK nationals in those countries.

16:51 A thought for EU nationals in the UK


“We still have no idea what our status will be”: Brits in France

French industry sectors exposed to Brexit continue to implement contingency plans in the event of a no-deal becoming a reality.

“For our part, following the prescriptions of the French public authorities, we have invited French companies to prepare themselves better by considering the possibility of a 'hard Brexit', on March 29th,” Mathieu Montagnon, a spokesman for the French Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CCI), told The Local by email. 

French media seem less than impressed with the UK's contingency plans for a no-deal. 

The UK's no-deal contingency plans “in their rush and the amateurism, sometimes graze the ridiculous,” wrote Eric Albert in yesterday's Le Monde.

On the citizens' rights side, Kalba Meadows from the British in Europe (BiE) and Remain in France Together (RIFT) campaign groups told The Local the situation for Britons living in the EU is nothing short of “shameful”.

“While the eyes of the UK and EU are on politicians and the vote, we, the ordinary Brits living in the EU, are on day 934 of our limbo and still have no idea what our status will be in just 74 days time.

“We should have been removed from the equation months ago through a separate citizens' rights agreement covering us and the EU citizens living in the UK. “

READ ALSO: 'It's shameful': Britons in Europe hold breath ahead of Brexit vote but more limbo awaits


“Brexit without a deal would be very disruptive” 

Senior business figures in Denmark continue to express concerns about how a no-deal Brexit would affect Danish industry and exports, many of which – bacon, dairy products and machinery – are exported to the UK.

“Danish companies are very worried about the prospect of a no-deal scenario,” Anders Ladefoged, director of European affairs at the Confederation of Danish Industry, told The Local.

Ladefoged added: “A Brexit without a deal would be very disruptive for both exporting and importing companies with challenging issues around customs and tariffs, waiting time a borders, product certification, data transfer etc. At the moment we are encouraging our member companies to prepare for the worst, even if we are still hoping for an orderly Brexit.”

The latest Danish government figures confirm that a no-deal Brexit could cost Denmark billions of euro.

“(No-deal) would be very bad for the European dairy industry. If you break the very effective supply chain currently in place between the EU and the UK, there could be serious consequences,” the Arla head of Europe said in October already.

READ ALSO: No-deal Brexit could cost Denmark billions, companies looking at alternative markets: ministry

16:07 Brits in Sweden granted one-year transition period in case of no-deal

Sweden has announced that the 20,000 or so Brits living in the Scandinavian country will not face a bureaucratic cliff edge on March 29th if the UK exits the European Union without a deal that would define their residency and working rights. 

Sweden has announced it will allow those UK nationals already living in Sweden on March 29th to stay in the country and retain their existing rights for another year after that.

That would grant Brits more time to apply for any residence and work permits needed to remain for longer in the country, and to ensure that they fulfill the requirements for these.

“Brits living in Sweden won't need to leave Sweden in order to apply [for permits]. They will get a year, and will be able to apply from Sweden without needing to travel abroad,” Darina Agha, press secretary to EU Minister Ann Linde, told The Local. “The whole point is to make things easier, as simple and convenient as possible for Brits to continue their lives here.”

READ ALSO: Brits in Sweden 'could stay for one year' in event of no-deal Brexit

15:55 May should commit to a treaty to ringfence rights if she loses – Brits in Europe

British in Germany, one of ten core groups that make up the British in Europe coalition advocating for the rights of British citizens in the Brexit negotiations, has issued a statement calling for a treaty for the “ringfencing” of rights should May lose the vote. 

15:46 Brits in Europe will have to take new driving tests in no-deal scenario

Meanwhile, more bad news for Brits in Europe. 

“In the event that there is no EU exit deal, you may have to pass a driving test in the EU country you live in to be able to carry on driving there,” reads a statement by the Department for Transport in the UK. 

READ ALSO: No-deal Brexit: Britons in EU could be forced to retake driving tests


German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas echoed the EU-wide mantra that the deal cannot be reopened.  

“I am sceptical that the agreement can be fundamentally reopened once again,”Maas said, conceding that talks could however continue if May is defeated. 

READ ALSO: Heiko Maas: Brexit talks could go on if May loses vote 

Chancellor Merkel was forced to deny she offered May any further “assurances” regarding the potential of negotiating a new deal. 

READ ALSO: German government denies Merkel offered additional Brexit assurances

In Berlin, thousands of Brits have applied for residency under the German government's Brexit terms in the first few weeks since the guidelines were published.

READ ALSO: 3,600 Britons in Berlin apply for residence permit in run up to Brexit


Meanwhile, could Germany really face its own Brexit moment? The far right AfD party announced it would campaign for Germany to leave the EU. 

READ ALSO: First Brexit, now 'Dexit?' AfD mulls prospect of German departure from EU

15:31 EU Commission President Juncker makes clear this is the deal on the table

While offering reassurances that the backstop, if triggered, “would only apply temporarily,” Juncker reiterated in his letter to Theresa May yesterday: “We are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement.”  The backstop is a default solution to prevent a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, whereby the latter would effectively remain in the Single Market for a limited period.

15:26 Unilateral revocation of Article 50 is possible

If Article 50 cannot be extended, it can be revoked or withdrawn unilaterally by the UK government, according to a ruling by the European Court of Justice, following a judicial review led by the Good Law Project. In other words, the UK can opt to send a polite letter saying it would no longer like to leave the bloc and everything could be forgotten.

READ ALSO: UK can cancel Brexit before March 29th without EU’s consent, ECJ rules

15:15 Extension to Article 50?

Should British PM May lose the vote tonight, there are still many possible outcomes – a general election, a second referendum and a sought extension to Article 50 all being possible paths that have been suggested.

There is some support for an extension to Article 50 in the European Parliament, where more than 100 MEPs have promised to back a delay.

READ ALSO: Euro MPs back Brexit delay in letter to Britain

The EU has suggested it could be open to an extension on Article 50, although there is no guarantee an extension would be granted or possible to secure politically.

“It is remarkable how little attention MPs in Britain have paid to the terms of Article 50. This is what the Government invoked in 2017 and it leads inevitably to leaving the EU next March … unless it is revoked or the timetable is extended. Neither of these seem likely on political grounds,” a former senior EU Commission official told The Local.