As is the way with our ever-quickening news cycle, by the time you read this column the result of the “meaningful vote” on the Prime Minister’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement will be known. She may have sneaked a close and unexpected win; she may have endured an embarrassing defeat – or she may have suffered a hugely significant and humiliating record trouncing.
She may have sneaked a close and unexpected win; she may have endured an embarrassing defeat – or she may have suffered a hugely significant and humiliating record trouncing.
The only way the Government can be saved from repudiation is if, at the last minute, Labour decides to abstain or even vote with the Government, but this is highly unlikely.
At least this time the vote went ahead and was not pulled with a few hours to go. What a waste of time that was! Instead of winning more MPs round it precipitated the leadership challenge that only served to weaken the Pime Minister with 117 of her MPs voting against her; attitudes in the Commons only appear to have hardened. A couple of MPs have decide to back the Withdrawal Agreement, but others have swung against it, and on Monday a Tory Whip resigned because his conscience told him he must put country before party by voting against his own government.
The decision to delay also allowed Europhile Tory MPs to conspire with the opposition to inflict two defeats on the Government that might otherwise have been avoided. The latter involved the decision of the Speaker John Bercow to break precedent. When asked to reveal the advice of his clerks Bercow refused – saying that would break precedent!
The extra time also failed to deliver any movement from the EU, but what did Theresa May seriously expect? We have now been told by the Irish Foreign Minister that Theresa May did not even ask for the EU to remove the so-called backstop that could trap Britain inside the EU with no way out.
I thought at the time when the vote was avoided that it would have been better for the Government to lose and then our Prime Minister would be able to go back to the EU saying she needed a better deal if it was to get through the Commons. It would be laughable if she were to do that following a defeat now, when it could have been done a month ago. But very little surprises anymore about the Brexit farrago – when you think it could not get more insufferable and infuriating it becomes exasperating!
On the basis that Theresa May’s agreement will after all be defeated, the big question becomes how will she react, what will she propose she does next?
Any prime minister in the past would probably feel there was little alternative after so many humiliations but to resign, and it may yet be that a motion of no confidence is moved by Labour, but with heavy irony she is more likely to win that.
Despite what politicians will say publicly, not many, even in the Labour Party, really want a general election. If Theresa May were to lose, the Tories would have 14 days to produce a new prime minister – a far more likely outcome than facing an unhappy electorate at the polls.
Party politics aside, the options for the Government are to go back to Brussels, shuffle some papers and come back with minor concessions. Only then might enough MPs feel they should change their minds. In the meantime the country will continue towards leaving the EU on 29 March.
With the UK keeping its £39 billion, the airlines saying their aircraft will fly, the Calais mayor saying lorries will still cross the Channel and other scares debunked – just leaving is beginning to look more attractive to more people than a bad deal.
By the time I write my next column we shall know May’s answer.