Brexit might actually result in one departure. Theresa May will address fellow Tories tomorrow afternoon as she attempts to resuscitate the Withdrawal Agreement she negotiated with the EU for a third vote. Rumors flew yesterday that May had offered to trade her resignation for complete backing from her party, but the political editor for the Sun hears that she might resign forthwith, although not immediately:
Massive moment. The expectation among Tory grandees now is that PM uses the below to set a date for her resignation. https://t.co/UOOzxTRm2O
— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) March 26, 2019
After delivering an abject failure following nearly three years of negotiation, it’s a wonder May remains at Number 10 Downing Street at all. Her endurance might reflect more on the alternatives. No one among Conservatives could possibly want her job right now and take on the task of delivering the undeliverable in a Brexit that can win majority support and EU agreement. And no one wants Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister, which explains why a general election has not been called by voting May out in a no-confidence vote.
Although that possibility still exists, Brexiter MP John Baron warns:
A snap general election is becoming more likely. Whatever the outcome of the votes on Wednesday, the numbers inside the current remain-dominated House of Commons will not change.
It may be that an election is necessary to redress the balance in favour of MPs willing to implement the referendum result, for history suggests it is unwise for any parliament to distance itself from the people. The events of the next few weeks will be critical.
If May had hopes to use her remaining leverage to get her Brexit deal passed in Parliament in exchange for her willing resignation, her allies in Northern Ireland entirely dashed them this morning. The DUP, which supplies enough seats for May to maintain her parliamentary majority, declared they would rather wait a year rather than take the WA May has tendered to Parliament. They want May’s resignation or ouster, followed by new negotiations with the EU and an extension to get around the “backstop”:
The DUP now consider a long extension to Brexit to be preferable to the prime minister’s deal, Sky News understands.
Some in the party believe if the prime minister is forced by MPs to request a longer extension, there may be a change of Conservative leader to someone who could force through a different deal. …
A source close to those talks told Sky News the party’s MPs are moving towards “a long extension, perhaps a year or more, which would mean a change of leader and a different approach”.
The party’s MPs have discussed the fact that while the EU’s permission would be needed to leave the backstop, if Britain secured a long extension as an EU member, it could decide not to renew it at any time.
How would that work? The EU would have to agree to this, since the UK and EU already have signed off on their Article 50 exit. That was originally scheduled for this Friday, but by mutual agreement has been postponed to either April 12 (if Parliament rejects the WA) or May 22nd (if Parliament passes the WA). Regardless of whatever the DUP thinks it can get out of renewed negotiations, the EU would first have to agree to reopen them — and they’re not going to agree to do so just so the UK can find a way to undermine the backstop.
In fact, as the EU has made plain over the last couple of weeks, they’re tired of the uncertainty and have offered all the concessions they plan to make. They have prepared for the crash-out option instead, perhaps better than has the UK. Voting against a no-deal Brexit is pointless for Parliament now, as it remains the default unless the UK can get the EU to let them off the hook. While EU officials have been willing to offer May assistance with their “legal interpretations” of the WA, they have steadfastly refused to revisit it, and have made it clear that they want an end to the uncertainty more than they want to enable Parliament to keep stalling.
Nevertheless, Parliament persisted. In a humiliation for May, Parliament seized control of the Brexit process for a short period in order to cast a number of “indicative votes,” which will presumably offer a vision of a Brexit deal they can accept — or maybe even change their mind about Brexiting at all:
Lawmakers voted Monday to upend the usual parliamentary procedure, in which the government decides the schedule for debates and votes. The House of Commons carved out time for legislators to hold a series of “indicative votes” Wednesday on alternatives to May’s defeated deal.
The options up for vote haven’t been decided, but are likely to include a “soft Brexit” option that calls for Britain to remain in the EU’s single market and customs union. Lawmakers could also vote on whether to hold a new referendum on Britain’s EU membership, or on canceling Brexit altogether.
The aim is to find out what, if anything, can command majority support in Parliament — and to send the government back to negotiate it with the EU.
The government says Parliament’s move sets “a dangerous, unpredictable precedent,” but has promised to “engage constructively” with the result of the votes. But ministers say any plan agreed by Parliament must be “realistic” and negotiable with the EU.
The most obvious point here is made by the calendar. The EU will have elections on May 23rd. If the UK wants to remain in the EU past that date, they’ll have to participate in those elections; the EU has made that very clear. The UK doesn’t want to do that, because it might put an end to whatever momentum remains behind Brexit. It’s also more than a bit hypocritical, as May herself has pointed, to demand to be freed from Brussels and then participate in the EP elections and demand representation there.
In that context, what will Parliament suggest that the EU will buy in two week’s worth of negotiations? Would it be anything that May and her team didn’t attempt to bargain at some point over the last 33 months? The only new idea under the Brexit sun that might emerge is a second referendum and/or canceling Article 50 altogether, both of which would still require EU cooperation to avoid the default crash-out on April 12th.
Small wonder May’s thinking about resigning, although it seems rather craven to run away from the impending disaster she helped to build.
Update: ERG, the hardline-Brexit group in Parliament, has opposed May until now. That may be changing as the ugly realities of a crash-out become more obvious — and the potential that Parliament might avoid it by taking the only other practical choice left to them, which would be to cancel Article 50. One MP in ERG said that support for May had turned into a “flow,” and that the deal’s starting to look better all the time:
The prime minister’s deal turns out to be the least worst option out of all the options which parliament are now putting forward.
We were very concerned about aspects of it but frankly it’s a dream compared to a full blown customs union, another referendum or a single market agreement with the European Union that doesn’t fulfil what our constituents voted for.
I think when we debated this issue last night, it was six of one and half a dozen of the other when it came to the speakers, both for and against.
There is definitely a palpable shift. It was a trickle, now it’s a flow.
We Brexiteers are playing with fire, and we could get very, very burnt if this deal doesn’t get through.
They may have reached the final stage of Lando Calrissian’s logic.