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Analysis

Fab u-turn on delay. How about one on People’s Vote?

by Hugo Dixon | 26.02.2019

After the prime minister caved into pressure from ministers today, the chance of crashing out on March 29 is slim. The chance of getting her deal through has also shrunk. It is now highly likely that Brexit will be delayed, if not cancelled.

But any delay needs a good reason. Just kicking the can and frittering away extra time isn’t good enough.

Theresa May has said again and again that she will take us out of the EU on March 29. But today she made a statement in the House of Commons that is almost certain to delay Brexit.

MPs will get another vote on her deal by March 12. If they say “no”, MPs will vote on whether to quit without a deal on March 13. And if that fails, as it almost certainly will, the prime minister will propose a motion to ask the EU for extra time on March 14.

The last time she asked MPs to back her deal, she lost by 230 votes. She may do better next time. But it’s hard to see her winning a majority. After all, she will no longer be able to threaten them that it is her deal or no deal. MPs will see that the real choice is her deal or delay – and playing for time will seem attractive to many.

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The prime minister only made today’s commitment because as many as 20 ministers were prepared to resign to support a cross-party amendment that would have forced her to do pretty much what she set out in her statement. Her u-turn is a big victory for these ministers, led by Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark.

But as May herself rightly says, delaying Brexit on its own doesn’t solve the problem. Parliament also needs to decide what it actually wants to do and there are only three options: leave with no deal, leave with a deal or don’t leave at all.

Much the best way of stopping Brexit is to ask the people whether they still want to leave. With Jeremy Corbyn backing a new referendum yesterday, there’s a good chance MPs will eventually support that.

A key question in the coming weeks will be how long Brexit should be delayed. The prime minister said she would propose a “short limited” delay if she can’t get her deal through. She probably has two or three months in mind. But that is clearly not long enough to hold a referendum.

So MPs must be able to ask for a longer delay. They are rightly asking for assurances that they can.

Meanwhile, the moderate ministers are now stronger in the battles ahead. They did not need to resign, so they can press their case within government. And they are operating as a cohesive team.

It’s not clear what their next fight will be. But the really big one will be over whether to have a People’s Vote. When the prime minister next says she will never agree to a new referendum, remember how she used to say she’d never agree to a delay.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Fab u-turn on delay. How about one on People’s Vote?”

  • Still not sure if I trust her with the dates she’s promised. Especially as she refused, repeatedly, to say how she and the Government would vote on a No Deal option. Seems to be part of her Russian Roulette strategy. What is needed is for Parliament to take control. Or will her pro Europe ministers be fobbed off again with promises.
    It will get to a point where No Deal happens by default.

  • I think your opener was a rhetorical one Alex?
    Theresa May has demonstrated considerable contempt and deceit to her parliamentary peers over 2 years or so.
    As in real life, once we are treated by someone in such a cynical and dishonest manner, the trust is broken and cannot be repaired.
    Incidentally I regard May as having an autistic personality where I fear that she cannot even understand her own behaviour to others, instead she operates on a different level of cognitive understanding of reality.
    Therefore trust is a word I would never associate with the current PM.
    Let’s just trust in the majority of the MP’s to see this process through to a satisfactory conclusion, step by step.

  • You (Hugo Dixon) say “Her U-turn is a big victory for these ministers, led by Rudd, Gauke and Clark”. Maybe it strikes them as a victory: superficially she’s ceded ground to rebels in her Party, including these ministers. But don’t the rebels know that the ceded ground is just a longer road down which she can kick the can? All they’ve won is prolonged uncertainty.
    Boles and Letwin have indicated that they prefer May’s concession to the amendments they’d intended. It’s come to seem that no Tort has ever really wanted to join in on stopping the P.M. continuing to defy Parliament.