May hits reverse, offers delay and vote on no-deal Brexit

Theresa May’s position on Brexit continues to crumble the closer the UK comes to its Article 50 deadline. Reversing her previous position, May offered Parliament two significant concessions over her Brexit negotiations, which seem to be getting nowhere close to the demands of her own party. May will allow votes on a no-deal Brexit and on extending the deadline, both of which the Prime Minister had tried to avoid:

Theresa May has promised MPs the chance to reject a no-deal Brexit and possibly delay the departure date, while repeatedly declining to say whether or not she and the government would support such moves.

In a significant first concession that Brexit could take place after 29 March, following months of insistence the deadline could not be shifted, May sought to appease restive Conservative backbenchers, but prompted concern from pro-Brexit MPs.

Parliament forced the concessions after having loudly claimed that May had deliberately boxed them into a Hobson’s choice on Brexit by delaying a vote on her deal. By the time she came back to them from her latest round of negotiations, critics charged, they would be left with either May’s previous deal with some recent rhetorical flourishes or a no-deal Brexit disaster, forcing them to take her deal. These two concessions, plus the pledges on vote scheduling, unblocks that cul-de-sac and puts Brexit — or at least Theresa May’s concept of it — in real peril.

May’s retreat got forced by a number of issues, not the least of which is that she’s discovering that the EU has little interest in rescuing her. May keeps claiming that she’s making progress in her talks in Brussels about limiting the “backstop” for Ireland/Northern Ireland, but European leaders aren’t re-opening that agreement. The EU and Ireland will not allow the UK a unilateral way out of the backstop, and without that, May can’t pass a Brexit deal. The EU has been urging May to delay Brexit all week, which she finally offered today as one potential alternative if Parliament rejects both her deal and a no-deal Brexit.

The other alternative comes from the Labour Party. Until this week, both of the UK’s major political parties backed some form of Brexit. Now, however, Jeremy Corbyn threw the party behind a second referendum to see whether the UK still wants to leave the EU, especially after discovering all of the complications it will produce:

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, announced Monday evening that his bloc in Parliament would support a second referendum to stop what he called “a damaging Tory Brexit.”

While Labour Party activists have been pushing their leader for months to back another public vote on Brexit, Corbyn had been cold to the idea. Many Labour voters — especially in Wales and the north of England — want Britain to leave the European Union.

Corbyn’s shift comes after he was battered by the abrupt resignations of nine Labour lawmakers last week. The defectors, who support remaining in the European Union, complained Corbyn lacked leadership on the greatest issue facing Britain in a generation, and they urged more Labour members to quit.

Corbyn’s late support for a second referendum does not mean another public vote will happen. Prime Minister Theresa May, her government and most of her Conservative Party remain opposed to a do-over.

The idea of a second referendum has been percolating for months now, but has grown stronger as Brexit negotiations flounder over the backstop. It may be surprising that Labour took this long to come around on a second referendum, but Brexit support and its populist underpinnings do not map out along party lines. Corbyn’s taking some risks with this shift and his attempt to corner May, the Guardian reports:

Labour is braced for a backlash from shadow ministers and backbenchers angry at the party’s plans to support an amendment for a second referendum, with several of them warning enough would defy the whip in order to sink the plan. …

Labour sources suggested there was a vocal backlash against the decision at a shadow cabinet meeting on Tuesday, including the fact that it had not been discussed and agreed at a full meeting.

The shadow cabinet did not meet last week, and the Brexit move was considered at a series of meetings and conversations among a smaller group of shadow ministers, including Corbyn, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, and the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott.

Labour’s chairman, Ian Lavery, and the shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, have previously expressed scepticism about supporting a second referendum. “I suspect we’ll see a bit of back-pedalling today,” one Labour MP said.

Maaayyybeee, but that genie will be tough to push back into the lamp. It does seem that back-pedalling is the order of the day from both parties now when it comes to Brexit, which appears farther away than ever.