If you’ve been keeping track of the British press lately (or even just our coverage of it here) you’re likely getting used to seeing stories like this on a near daily basis. Something else has gone wrong and threatens to throw the Brexit process off the rails in the final twelve weeks before it’s finalized. Many of these perils have come and gone without the UK government completely sinking below the waves, but the latest one is probably worth paying attention to.
Up until now, it’s been something of a standoff in the House of Commons. A significant number of MPs are opposed to the Brexit deal that Prime Minister Theresa May worked out with the EU Parliament. This includes both the Remainers and the Brexiteers, though they oppose it for different reasons. Up until now, the Tories have been unwilling to side with Labour in a way that would significantly imperil the PM. But now, a group of conservatives has teamed up with the Labour Party to deliver a defeat to May’s government. They put a block to any No Deal Brexit into the finance bill currently being considered in Parliament, threatening to crash the entire process.
Theresa May faces a concerted campaign of parliamentary warfare from a powerful cross-party alliance of MPs determined to use every lever at their disposal to prevent Britain leaving the EU without a deal in March.
Former staunch loyalist Sir Oliver Letwin signalled that he and other senior Conservatives would defy party whips, repeatedly if necessary, to avoid a no-deal Brexit, as the government suffered a humiliating defeat during a debate on the finance bill in the Commons.
Letwin and 16 other former government ministers were among 20 Conservatives who banded together with home affairs select committee chair, Yvette Cooper, and the Labour leadership to pass an anti no-deal amendment to the finance bill.
They defeated the government by 303 votes to 296 – a majority of seven.
The vote on May’s deal with the EU comes next week and she’s already conceded in public that she’s likely to lose. Up until now, that’s meant that the only other option is the No Deal Brexit. But as of this week, there is talk of submitting legislation to extend article 50. In other words, they want to push the deadline back past March 29 and drag this torturous process out even further.
Here are two things to keep in mind in terms of what this could mean going forward. First of all, if May has lost the support of 20 or more Tories in the House of Commons who are refusing both her deal and the No Deal option, it’s possible that they might band with Labour and have enough votes to remove May from office. That could possibly lead to a new PM who might be willing to call a second referendum on leaving. (This assumes they could find another Conservative willing to take the job at this point… no sure thing.)
The second, bigger concern is that dragging out the Brexit process any further isn’t going to change anything aside from prolonging the pain. Labour has already made it clear that they won’t support any sort of Brexit. And the conservatives are equally adamant that they want to leave, but they’re insisting they must have a better deal. The problem is that the EU has already drawn a firm line on what they will accept and they’re not going to offer a different deal that the Tories like better. There is no other deal to be had, so prolonging article 50 isn’t going to get them any closer to what they want.
This is a British problem and it will need a British solution. But if some Yank without a horse in this race can offer a bit of advice, I’d suggest they just suck it up, move forward with the No Deal Brexit in March and let the chips fall where they may. The people of the British Isles have somehow kept their islands running for century after century, long before the European Union was ever thought of. They’ll work out new deals with their neighbors that work in the 21st century and somehow soldier on.