It really is ironic, isn’t it? Despite a third successive Brexit defeat for Theresa May, it seems the fallout has at last paved the way for an alternative approach to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Friday’s Commons defeat was smaller than those which had come before it on 15 January and 12 March – the majority against Mrs May was 58 rather than 230 and 149. The vote was also confined to the so-called ‘Divorce’ rather than extending to the crucial political declaration. But, even so, the verdict was clear- the vote in its current form is dead and buried.
Given that her deal was likely to lose for a third time, the question has to be asked: why did the prime minister so willingly invite her own humiliation? For a prime minister who, since taking office has faced 35 cabinet resignations, conventional wisdom would surely prevent her from inflicting any more embarrassment upon her stricken premiership.
There are a host of reasons. Her obdurate character, her inept strategy and the seeping political authority. However, perhaps the most crucial reason was to appease the various party wings, and indeed the country, by showing that some kind of Brexit was on the road. But her systematic misjudgements and succumbing to partisanship meant she was unable to meet the deadline of leaving the EU in what she called “an orderly fashion” by 29 March. The prime minister was clearly trying to demonstrate to leave voters that it was everyone else apart from her that was getting in the way of Brexit. Indeed, Mrs May has, throughout the process, tried to turn the spotlight of blame on Labour. But they owed her nothing.
According to Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, the reason for May trying again was purely a matter of procedure. The prime minister needed to get the deal through so that the latest Brexit deadline could be moved back from 12 April to 22 May which, in theory, would allow Parliament to force through the final furlong of withdrawal legislation and avoid the European parliament elections.
But the PM had more political reasons too. The revolt of MPs last Monday, in which they took control of the parliamentary timetable, opened the possibility that opposition MPs and pro-European Tories might force a soft-Brexit. Many panicked at this prospect, and with Mrs May promising to stand down if her deal was voted through, more than 40 MPs supported a deal they had once fiercely criticised. Even so, it was all to no avail, yet Downing Street seems to suggest that it can rely on those switchers in order to make things easier for the deal if May tries a fourth time.
But a fourth vote would be nonsensical. Instead, Mrs May’s defeat clears the way for an alternative approach. Indeed, this week’s indicative votes – whilst not producing an outright majority – proved that there is a majority for a customs union-orientated solution. With Theresa May having
If the Commons can rally behind these then the EU summit – which commences on 10 April – can be asked to give the UK an extension of article 50 to formulate a different form of a withdrawal deal, potentially with a public vote at the end.
Whatever happens in the short-term, maybe, just maybe, Theresa May has kicked the can hard enough to