Last Wednesday, Jan. 16, United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May narrowly survived a confidence vote 325 to 306 after her proposed Brexit deal received a stunning blow when members of Parliament rejected it on Tuesday, triggering yesterday’s vote and throwing further doubt on the UK’s scheduled March 29 departure from the European Union.
Meanwhile, overseas territories including the Virgin Islands are caught in the middle once again as they scramble to prepare for any Brexit eventuality. In all, 432 MPs voted to reject the Brexit deal, and 202 voted for it, crossing party lines. The deal sets out the conditions of Britain’s exit from the EU.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn then tabled a vote of no confidence in the government, which could have triggered a general election if it had succeeded.
Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour Party, called the “no” vote on the Brexit deal “not a mere flesh wound.”
“No one doubts her determination, which is generally an admirable quality,” he said of the prime minister. “But misapplied it can be toxic.”
In December, Brexit was at the top of the agenda when Premier Dr. Orlando Smith and other overseas territory leaders travelled to London to meet with UK officials during the 20th Joint Ministerial Council, during which the JMC attempted to reassure the OTs that business would continue more or less as usual.
“This follows assurances given by the UK government that, in the unlikely scenario that we leave the EU without a deal, existing projects under certain EU funding streams will be guaranteed by Her Majesty’s Treasury for the lifetime of those projects,” according to a statement released after the JMC by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
However, some residents have expressed scepticism that the UK has the best interests of the OTs in mind. Dr. Richard Georges, a professor at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, said that the vote left him stunned at how “little space the overseas territories occupy in the psyche of British politicians.”
“Fundamentally, our economic, civic, social and political development have never been priorities in London,” said Dr. Georges, adding that the time has come for the VI to stop relying on UK politicians and put its own interests first.
“We are the ones who need to bring the brightest minds from the public and private sectors together to strategise our sustainable development and put forth a robust apolitical plan for how these islands will make their way through these times of uncertainty.”
Ms. May has spent more than two years working on the deal with the EU, which was intended to hammer out the details for the departure and set up a 21-month transition period in which a free trade deal could be negotiated.
Some 118 Conservative MPs from Ms. May’s party voted against the deal, and three Labour MPs voted for it.
Ms. May already survived a confidence vote in December after a previous Brexit vote was postponed.
Yesterday she weathered the storm again with the support of Conservatives who voted against her deal, along with 10 votes from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.
The rejected deal could prompt the weakened Ms. May to listen to the arguments of MPs who want another referendum or a softer Brexit — or to stop the deal altogether, some commentators have speculated.
Last month, Dr. Smith expressed confidence in the VI’s ability to weather a Brexit.
“As the UK approaches life post-Brexit, there is a clear opportunity to highlight the role and value the BVI can play in helping the UK with international trade and development,” the premier said in a press release.
During his December visit to the UK, Dr. Smith focussed on promoting the role of the VI in uncertain times, stressing that the territory is supporting the UK by strengthening relationships with partners in Asia and Africa while also looking for “its own opportunities” in new markets.
However, he also spoke in favour of the continued relationship to the UK.
“As the UK seeks to define its relationship with the EU we are, in turn, discussing how we ensure our constitutional relationship with the UK is fit for purpose,” he said. “We are pleased that the UK government will continue to support us and are encouraged by [Ms. May’s] statement that ‘We will always negotiate on behalf of the whole UK family [including the overseas territories] and in the future relationship we will stand up for their interests.’”