IAN SWANSON: Brexit outcome can't possibly please everyone

PATHETIC cowardice, a desperate step, a crushing humiliation '“ Theresa May's decision to postpone the much-anticipated Commons vote on her Brexit deal prompted widespread condemnation and contempt, not least because it was such a volte face.

Tuesday, 11th December 2018, 5:00 am
Campaigners mock Theresa Mays Brexit fudge. Picture: AP

For days her aides had insisted the vote would not be pulled.

And just hours before she announced the U-turn yesterday afternoon, Cabinet ministers were dutifully repeating that it would go ahead despite the near certainty of defeat.

Mrs May says she will now be asking EU leaders for “additional reassurances” over the Irish backstop – the issue which she says is the one real stumbling block to getting her plan through.

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But other European leaders made clear when they agreed the deal with her that there would be no re-opening of negotiations – and up until yesterday Mrs May and her colleagues said the same.

So it is difficult to see what delaying the crucial vote is going to achieve.

Indeed the Prime Minister appears to have angered many Brexiteers with her handling of the issue. They say that a clarification over the backstop will not be enough to win them over.

And there are claims of more “no confidence” letters being lodged with the chairman of the 1922 committee, potentially leading to a leadership contest. Of course, these suggestions nay need be taken with a pinch of salt given previous boasts which turned out to be groundless – but nonetheless if she is further alienating the hardline Brexiteers instead of persuading them to her side it does her no good.

As she flies off to Brussels today, she is not likely to find much more sympathy there.

Supporters say what she is after is a “legally binding assurance” from the EU that the backstop is not permanent. This comes after the government lost another vote in the Commons last week and was forced to publish the legal advice given by the Attorney General over Mrs May’s deal. It spelled out that despite being billed as “temporary” there was no way the UK could get out of the backstop without the agreement of the rest of the EU and so we could be locked into the arrangement “indefinitely”. If Mrs May comes back to the Commons – probably next month – with some tweaks to wording or an extra document giving “reassurances” is that really going to turn around what was looking like one of the biggest defeats in parliamentary history? It seems likely all she has done is put off the fateful day.

But what will happen after that? There is no majority among MPs for any of the options being touted – a Norway-style deal; a Canada-style deal; no deal at all; or even a general election.

People’s Vote campaigners suggest the way to break the parliamentary stalemate is to hold a second referendum. But would asking people to vote again really resolve the issue any more successfully?

The polls suggest Scotland would still vote clearly to stick with the EU, but across the UK as a whole the Leave and Remain camps are very close – in other words, even if the result tipped the other way, the country is hopelessly split.

Whatever happens next, it seems clear a huge number of people are going to be deeply dissatisfied – and that will bring its own problems, likely to last many years.