Will the third time be the charm for Theresa May’s beleaguered Brexit deal? Now that Parliament has overwhelmingly voted against a no-deal exit and for a delay on its Article 50 deadline …. maaayyyybeeee. Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads the influential Brexit hardline group European Research Group, signaled today that he and his band of 80 MPs might throw in with May to prevent a no-Brexit outcome:
One of the most influential Brexit-backing lawmakers in Prime Minister Theresa May’s party gave the strongest hint to date on Monday that rebels might back her departure deal, saying that a bad exit accord was better than staying in the European Union. …
“No deal is better than a bad deal but a bad deal is better than remaining in the European Union in the hierarchy of deals,” Rees-Mogg told LBC radio. “A two-year extension is basically remaining in the European Union.”
Rees-Mogg said his dream option would be a no-deal exit on March 29 but that he felt May – a former supporter of EU membership who won the premiership in the turmoil that followed the 2016 Brexit referendum – would seek to stop a no-deal.
“The question people like me will ultimately have to answer is: can we get to no-deal instead? If we can get to no-deal instead, that is a better option… but I am concerned the prime minister is determined to stop a no-deal.”
The no-deal option appears dead at the moment, albeit only mostly dead. Parliament voted against a no-deal outcome last week, but it still remains the default in less than two weeks if Parliament can’t agree to a deal or the EU agree to an extension. As one EU official put it to the Guardian, it was akin to the Titanic voting for the iceberg to move out of its way.
Perhaps Rees-Mogg and Brexit hardliners counted on that as the default in their staunch opposition to May’s deal last week. If so, then the vote for a delay in Article 50 would definitely cut off their last hope for a crash-out. Anything but the shortest of delays would essentially lock the UK into the EU for another election cycle, and it might be enough for Brexit to shed all of its political momentum. That would spell an end to the Tory majority, but it would also put a stake through the heart of the kind of Brexit that its advocates initially demanded. Jeremy Corbyn and Labour are ostensibly supporting Brexit but on far softer terms than the Tories are demanding, and they likely don’t see the need to indulge the DUP as May must to maintain her majority.
All is not quite lost for Rees-Mogg and the ERG. Corbyn wants a “confirmatory referendum” on any agreement Parliament makes on a Brexit deal. It would in essence give British voters a potential veto on a deal, and that might end up creating the crash-out Rees-Mogg seeks:
Jeremy Corbyn appeared to signal on Sunday that his party would back an amendment aimed at securing a second Brexit referendum, set to be tabled this week – but also stressed that Labour had not ruled out tabling another vote of no confidence and still hoped to secure its own, softer Brexit deal.
The Kyle-Wilson amendment was drawn up by two Labour MPs, Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, who consulted the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, over the precise wording.
If May’s deal were brought back to parliament this week, Corbyn suggested Labour was likely to support the amendment, in which approval of the deal would be made conditional on a “confirmatory ballot”.
Not to quibble too much with the idea of referenda, but … isn’t that why voters elect members to Parliament? It’s difficult to see what good a second referendum would do even as a “confirmatory” measure. It’s not likely that voters will dig into the 500 pages or so of the divorce settlement in order to make a nuanced judgment on this particular deal. They would instead vote on their passion to leave or their passion to remain. And if it resulted in a 52/48 split in either direction, would either side accept the results?
May has until tomorrow night to decide whether to call for a third vote on her deal. The key will be whether she can convince Arlene Foster and the DUP that this is as good as it will get — and that it’s likely to be a lot worse in a non-Brexit or a Brexit negotiated by Jeremy Corbyn. Foster’s sticking around Belfast, which tells us something about how ripe those negotiations are at the moment. If May doesn’t pull the trigger on a new vote, then Rees-Mogg’s nightmare may well come to life.
What’s the view from the Continent? Mostly bemusement, although the prime minister of the Netherlands still remains sympathetic to May. However, Mark Rutte says she reminds him of a well-known Monty Python character:
He said his frustration was focused on the posturing of those seeking to make party political points during a major national crisis but praised May’s “incredible” resilience in the face of repeated knock-backs in the House of Commons.
“Look, I have every respect for Theresa May,” Rutte said in an interview with the Dutch broadcaster WNL on Sunday. “She reminds me occasionally of that character from Monty Python where all the arms and legs are cut off but he then tells the opponent: ‘Let’s call it a draw.’ She’s incredible. She goes on and on. At the same time, I do not blame her, but British politics.”
Not to worry, Mr. Rutte. ‘Tis but a scratch.