After losing her first Brexit deal vote by the worst margin for a government bill in modern British history, the best that can be said for Theresa May’s second attempt is that it at least performed marginally better. Despite claiming that she had won significant concessions from the EU, her divorce deal with the EU lost by 149 MPs even while holding a majority coalition in Parliament. The loss appeared inevitable this morning after a legal analysis by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, and with it the last shreds of May’s credibility:
Theresa May has suffered a second humiliating defeat on her Brexit deal, as MPs rejected the last-minute reassurances she won from the EU27 on Monday and voted it down by a crushing majority of 149.
With just 17 days to go until the UK is due to leave the EU, MPs ignored the prime minister’s pleas to “get the deal done”, after the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) said it could not support the agreement.
The prime minister immediately gave a statement, saying she was “profoundly disappointed” that her deal had been rejected again.
Thirty-two months of negotiations resulted in two humiliating defeats for Theresa May in Parliament. May gave no sign of stepping aside, at least not yet, as she outlined the government’s plans for the rest of the week. Next up will be a vote on a no-deal Brexit, which appears to be headed for a defeat of at least the same magnitude. If Parliament rejects that motion, then the final vote this week will be on a delay on their Article 50 withdrawal:
UK PM Theresa May says MPs now face "an unenviable choice" of what to do next, stressing that "voting against the deal and for an extension does not solve the problem"#BrexitVote latest: https://t.co/B1iEVm5bdm pic.twitter.com/MKfBMfiO1Q
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) March 12, 2019
No one’s quite sure what to make of the options in front of Parliament at the moment. Presumably, the delay motion will pass, as both parties will need some time to maneuver with May’s plan and the crash-out off the table. That assumes, though, that some other deal is possible and can get put together in a few weeks, which is as long as the EU is willing to delay the UK’s exit without Parliament canceling it altogether. The EU has its own parliamentary elections coming in late spring, and they are insisting that the UK will have to participate if they remain in the EU at that time.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to find a deal for a “softer Brexit,” or failing that new elections in the UK. Corbyn pronounced May’s leadership on the issue at an end in a fiery speech to the commons. “The Prime Minister has run down the clock,” Corbyn accused, “and the clock has been run down on her”:
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn says UK PM's #Brexit deal is "clearly dead", saying Theresa May has "run down the clock, and the clock has been run down on her"#BrexitVote latest: https://t.co/B1iEVm5bdm pic.twitter.com/PsL8De5COq
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) March 12, 2019
Corbyn wants a new election to sort all this out, but that’s not a terribly practical choice at this point. It would take a few months to call an election even if the Tories were willing to go along with a no-confidence vote, and Parliament simply doesn’t have a few months to waste before making decisions on Brexit. By the time they could call an election, the default no-deal Brexit will have already taken place and the damage done for at least a significant amount of time.
That’s assuming a different kind of deal is even possible. Corbyn wants a “softer Brexit,” which for Labour means keeping the UK somewhat engaged in EU institutions, which will not fly with most Brexiters. Even the EU might find that too confusing and too complicated an arrangement. For now, the spokesman for European Council president Donald Tusk did not sound very optimistic about prospects for any kind of replacement deal with the UK. They’re willing to discuss a delay, but not more concessions or a complete restructuring of their proposal:
The House of Commons’ second rejection of the EU-UK Brexit deal has “significantly increased” the risk of a damaging “no-deal” divorce, a spokesman for European Council President Donald Tusk said.
“We regret the outcome of tonight’s vote,” the spokesman said. “On the EU side, we have done all that is possible to reach an agreement … it is difficult to see what more we can do.”
“With only 17 days left to 29th March, today’s vote has significantly increased the likelihood of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit … Should there be a UK reasoned request for an extension, the EU27 will consider it and decide by unanimity.”
About the only consensus on this situation is that it’s a complete disaster now. The only options left manage to look worse than the utter failure that has produced them. A second referendum isn’t likely to demonstrate any more consensus in either direction than the first one did, even if the hysteria about a second referendum being the end of democracy is overblown. (It’s better understood as a great example of why both British and American founders of government mistrusted direct democracy in the first place.) Waiting doesn’t change any of the conditions surrounding the issue except for the desperation of those who are engaged in it. Moving forward in any direction will anger a large section of the populace and undermine the credibility of the sovereign government that Brexit was supposedly championing.
About the only decent bet would now be on a default no-deal Brexit, one in which Parliament either doesn’t get the EU to sign off on an extension or fails to vote to authorize one at the end of the week. After nearly one thousand days of negotiations, no other outcome looks possible now.
Addendum: By the way, Scotland now wants another independence referendum if a no-deal Brexit ends up taking place. And the UK might eventually lose Northern Ireland as well, thanks to a generational split over the loss of EU membership.