Back around Thanksgiving, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May was putting a sunny face on the “final” Brexit deal she had managed to push through the European Union Parliament, saying she was confident that she could get it approved back home and bring an end to this tumultuous process. Unfortunately, she seemed to be very nearly the only one expressing such a positive view. The British press was quick to jump on the fact Parliament was almost uniformly against it, though for differing reasons. The Remain contingent wasn’t about to approve any deal because they don’t want to leave the EU. But the Brexiteers didn’t like it either because they felt they were giving up too much while getting little in return.
For their part, the EU wasn’t doing much to help. They gave tentative approval to the deal, but then turned around and released a court finding saying that Britain could back out of Brexit entirely if they wished and they didn’t even need the Union’s approval. May has had a couple of weeks now to make her case, and rather than gathering the votes she needs, it now looks like the upcoming vote in Parliament later this month will go against her… badly. On top of that, her own cabinet is wavering on the idea of a new Brexit referendum, with a number of them walking off the job. (The Guardian)
A deep cabinet split has opened up over whether Theresa May should back a second referendum in a final attempt to end the political deadlock over Brexit, as senior Conservatives predicted on Saturday night that her blueprint for leaving the EU was heading for a crushing House of Commons defeat.
Adding to a mounting sense of constitutional crisis ahead of Tuesday’s crucial parliamentary vote, No 10 is braced for more resignations of ministers and aides who want another referendum, or who believe May’s deal fails to deliver on Brexit. Will Quince, the Colchester MP and aide to the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, quit his post on Saturday night in protest at the Brexit deal.
Cabinet ministers have told the Observer that attempts to convince May to delay the vote to avoid one of the largest and most humiliating defeats in recent parliamentary history had not been heeded. This was despite what they saw as a clear danger that such a result could provoke a leadership challenge and split the party irrevocably.
When May first brought this deal home from Brussels, I reasoned that she did have at least one reasonable chance to come away with a win. The clock is running out and, while many of the Tories don’t like the details, she was likely correct in saying that this was their last chance for a deal of any kind. Also, a second referendum vote would either produce a loss which scraps Brexit entirely or another narrow win leaving them right where they are now.
Unfortunately, rather than trying to forge new alliances and smooth the waters, May has taken a hardline stance right from the start, effectively telling Parliament (and her own cabinet) that it was her way or the highway. Now it looks like a vast number of the PMs are opting for the highway.
If this vote proceeds in the House of Commons and May loses in a landslide, there will likely be a leadership challenge. That might involve a split inside her own party, and the next vote could see her out of office with Labour taking back control. At that point, all bets are off as to whether there will be either a No Deal Brexit or even no Brexit at all.
How did it get to this point? Well, Brexit was never the overwhelming will of the people. They only won by a slim majority. And the people were voting on an idea rather than a well-defined plan. The devil was always going to be in the details and now that devil is knocking at the Tories’ door.