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Dec 11, 2018

Brexit weekly briefing: May delays and dashes off to save the deal

Jon Henley


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Well, nobody saw that coming (much). Despite sending her ministers out the selfsame morning to insist it would go ahead, Theresa May delayed the scheduled meaningful vote on her Brexit deal in the face of overwhelming opposition, mainly to the Northern Ireland backstop.
She then set off on a last-minute dash round EU capitals including The Hague (yes, I know, that’s actually a seat of government), Berlin and Brussels in search of concessions she seems unlikely to get, at least judging by the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, who said:There is no room whatsoever for renegotiation, but of course there is room, if used intelligently, for further clarifications and interpretations – without opening the withdrawal agreement.
My colleague Jessica Elgot has written a terrific article on how postponement day played out. To add spice to the mix, it was also the day on which the European court of justice ruled Britain could halt Brexit by revoking article 50 without the approval of the other member states (May, obviously, said it wouldn’t).

What next

I mean, who knows? May’s decision to deny MPs even a vote on the postponement of the meaningful vote enraged the Speaker, John Bercow, who called it “deeply discourteous”, and the government has now promised that parliament will have a say on the tweaked deal before 21 January.
In the meantime, May, her domestic authority shot to pieces, aims to seek changes from the EU and find ways to “empower” MPs on the matter, but it is far from clear she will be able to. Her critics argue she is only seeking a delay in the hope something will eventually come up and save her from a defeat that could end her career.
A perception of further procrastination could prompt a Conservative party leadership challenge. Labour, meanwhile, is promising a no-confidence motion only “when we judge it most likely to be successful”. A general election looks possible but probably not yet, although a big loss in a no-confidence motion could trigger one.
May remains vehemently opposed to a second referendum, but the longer it remains obvious that parliament is hopelessly deadlocked, the more a “people’s vote” looks like a runner.

Best of the rest

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In the Guardian, Polly Toynbee reckons Theresa May’s cowardly blunder may have saved us from Brexit and argues a second referendum is the only way out of the ongoing car crash:As the Tory axemen sharpen up to decapitate their leader, the rest of us must sincerely hope she survives. She may be our most inept prime minister in living memory, apart from David Cameron who caused this mayhem, but far worse beckons, whoever replaces her … The question now is how to put all the dark passions and fears Brexit aroused back in their corner. No one but the voters can reverse what has been done, now that Brexit in all its fiendishness has been explored and found miserably wanting. Promises turned to dust. Both sides have been preparing their referendum campaigns. The Brexiters will rely on a simple but clever “Tell them again!” while remainers plan a positive “Europe works” and a negative “Did you vote to be poorer?” May will try to defer this vote until the last possible day to force a “her deal or no deal” choice. Instead, she has just inched the possibility of no Brexit at all closer to the finishing line.
Jonathan Freedland says the country will pay the price for May’s Brexit vote delay – a decision that will cost the prime minister her remaining credibility, and make averting no deal more difficult:Britain needed the catharsis of Tuesday’s vote. Not for therapeutic reasons, but rather to begin the process of escape from the Brexit quagmire. The vote would have been the first stage in a much-needed process of elimination, whereby MPs would begin to confront the various options and eliminate them one by one. Now that process is delayed. Which means MPs are leaving themselves too little time. Remember, if the clock runs out and no plan has been voted on and agreed to by parliament, then the UK simply crashes out of the EU with no deal on 29 March 2019 – with all the economic and social calamity that that entails. That’s what will happen unless MPs can forge a consensus around an alternative action. And now they have less time to find it.

Source: The Guardian