May urges MPs to ‘reflect’ as she insists UK can exit EU by next month

Amid the anger from Tory MPs over the extension of article 50, Theresa May has used her statement to the House of Commons to encourage MPs to use the upcoming Easter recess to “reflect on the decisions that will have to be made swiftly on our return”.

The prime minister emphasised the importance of cross-party talks that have been taking place between ministers in the government and the Labour Party and remarked that she hoped that an agreement could be brokered within the next few days.

Her statement comes after returning from the EU27 summit in Brussels in which European leaders attempted to agree to an extension of article 50 until the end of October.

Mrs May used her statement to apportion blame to Tory Brexiteers’ failure to vote for her deal for the decision to ask for a further delay to article 50. Indeed, she suggested that if MPs could pass another withdrawal deal before 22 May, Britain could avoid participating in European elections and then leave the EU at the end of that month.

“However challenging it may be politically, I profoundly believe that in this unique situation where the house is deadlocked, it is incumbent on both frontbenches to seek to work together to deliver what the British people voted for. And I think that the British people expect their politicians to do just that when the national interest demands it.”

Theresa May

Nonetheless, members of the European Research Group lashed out against May’s further delay, with Conservative MP Bill Cash quoting May’s statement as an “abject surrender” and inquired whether she would resign.

In response to the prime minister, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn blamed the failure to “seek consensus” for the inability of any proposed Brexit deal to command a majority in Parliament.

May acknowledged that she had not wanted to ask for a second extension and cited the public’s increasing disenchantment with the impasse currently engulfing Parliament as a reason to reach an agreement by the end of the month

“…let us use the opportunity of the recess to reflect on the decisions that will have to be made swiftly on our return after Easter. And let us then resolve to find a way through this impasse.”

Theresa May

Analysis by Oliver Murphy – Editor

Yesterday’s statement from the prime minister has opened a Pandora’s Box in terms of the political ramifications of another Brexit delay. Today, as a seemingly spent Mrs May took to the despatch box, you’d be forgiven for believing that this was yet another desperate attempt from the PM to try and salvage her dwindling authority.

But for the time being Theresa May has succeeded in at least quelling the once unwavering sense of dread at the potential of a no deal Brexit. Yet, the question ultimately remains: what now?

Labour is willing to continue negotiations with the PM to try and seek compromise, but two factors threaten this prospect: the prime minister’s lack of authority and whether Labour feels it is within their interests to ‘make a deal with the devil.’

Today’s six-month extension to article 50 complicates matters further. With the urgency to avoid a no-deal scenario gone, those on the Labour benches who had thought of voting for May’s deal out of desperation are less likely to do so. As if this wasn’t enough, supporters of a second referendum will be feeling a renewed vigour to push Labour towards backing any legislation to allow a fresh poll during the period of extension.

Yet, perhaps the most pressing task facing the prime minister is facing off the majority of MPs within her own party who wish to see her gone. Indeed, even the most moderate Tories believe that May’s authority has reached its end. But even those within the cabinet concede that there is nothing that can be technically done to remove the PM before December when the party can try again to bring a no-confidence vote.

The sense of delirium within the Conservative party is overwhelming. With no apparent cliff edges on the horizon, many Tory MPs will relish the prospect of an Easter recess. But recent months suggests that a parliamentary break does not always result in cool heads. Indeed, this was the flawed calculation that Mrs May made when she cancelled the first Brexit vote before the Christmas recess, only to find that MPs were even more determined to vote her deal down.

Amid the uncertainty that continues to engulf Parliament, one prospect remains clear: Labour could capitalise on the general dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party in the upcoming local – and maybe even the EU elections.

Above all else, for the prime minister, this latest Brexit extension marks the beginning of the biggest fight for her political career.

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