May has 3 choices next week. All are awful – for her

by Hugo Dixon | 19.02.2019

Whatever the prime minister does next week, she is in a seemingly losing position. That’s good news for those fighting for a People’s Vote.

Theresa May wanted to run down the clock until the end of March, in the hope that MPs would back her miserable deal rather than crash out of the EU with no deal. But last week she had to promise a vote in the Commons on February 27 – and that has probably foiled her scheme to take things to the brink.

Her key problem is that there are at least 10 ministers, such as Amber Rudd and Greg Clarke, who are determined to stop us crashing out of the EU on March 29 with no deal. They have set the prime minister next week as a deadline to ask the EU for extra time.

This posse now includes David Mundell, the Scottish secretary. That should worry May. It’s unlikely Mundell would be lobbying for extra time unless Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Tories, was also keen to stop us crashing out.

So why doesn’t the prime minister just do what these ministers want? The EU would give us extra time. Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, told a German newspaper yesterday that we could even delay our departure beyond the European Parliament elections in May: “If you are asking for how long the withdrawal can be postponed, I have no time frame in mind. With Brexit so many timetables have already gone by the wayside.”

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The problem is that Tory Brextremists such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson would scream betrayal. Since May won’t want that, she could say “no” to Rudd et al. The snag is they are threatening they would then resign and support emergency legislation requiring the prime minister to ask for extra time.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper has been preparing such a law. She will need to grab control of the parliamentary timetable next week to do so. Although her attempt to do something similar failed last month, she will get the numbers this month if Tory ministers really do resign – and more Labour backbenchers and Conservatives should support her too.

May won’t want mass resignations. After all, once ministers have quit the government, they could rebel on other parts of her Brexit policy. Some could eventually back a People’s Vote.

So perhaps the prime minister will instead ask MPs to back her deal and threaten to delay Brexit if they don’t. That might win over a few Tory Brexiters. But the ploy is unlikely to work. After all, the prime minister suffered a 230-seat defeat on her deal last month, meaning she has to switch 116 MPs to her side to win.

It’s most unlikely May will get any significant concessions on her deal from the EU by next week. So most hardliners in her party will hang tough. The DUP probably won’t buckle either as they want changes to the notorious Irish “backstop”. And she will struggle to peel off many Labour MPs if she’s saying the alternative is extra time. So such a “threat” would most likely backfire, leaving her even weaker and still antagonising the hardliners by delaying Brexit.

Pundits often say the only people who know May’s mind are the prime minister herself and her husband. Given that all her options next week are awful (for her), it’s possible that even she doesn’t know what she will do.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

6 Responses to “May has 3 choices next week. All are awful – for her”

  • What i don’t understanding is that nobody wants a hard border in Ireland. A ‘ no deal’ means automatically a hard border. The ‘backstop’ means ‘no hard border’ Until there is a solution. Then why prefer a ‘no deal’ ?

  • May’s deal has already been rejected by 230 votes, so no tweaks are going to make it more acceptable. If it is rejected again on 27 February, then an extension of Article 50 will be required. The EU has already indicated that they would agree to this if a Referendum on the deal were to be offered to the public. The only two options, as the PM has said several times, is a choice of ‘No Deal’ or ‘No Brexit’.

    The first would satisfy the Brexiteers who have been clamouring for it; the second would satisfy the Remainers, so everyone would be happy, with no cries of ‘Betrayal’ ! The task then would be to ensure that the new referendum campaign was fair and factual, so that people could vote on the reality of the situation, and not on the broken promises of June 2016. If the majority vote against ‘No Deal’ then that would decide the issue. We would then be able to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.

  • Well said David.
    The key to ensuring that the public is well-informed during a second referendum campaign would be to create formal and informal citizens councils or assemblies.
    The virtue of this is that normal citizens would be speaking to each other and would start to participate in genuine and meaningful debate.
    This would sideline the rabid pack of self-interest groups such as the ERG and the Daily Mail. Their time would be up.
    Only when the assemblies are up and running could we then start to believe this is the real beginning of the end of the Brexit nightmare – the political version of the Trueman Show – where we are trapped in a warped unreality.
    Futhermore it seems odds on favourite that both mainstream political parties will take a huge hit in their popularity. It is obvious that the splits are irreparable, and a splintering of polical interests has to follow.
    RIP the Corbyn Labour Party and the Rees-Mogg Conservative Party.

  • If political parties start to do the splits, this could be welcome as future governments might then consist of coalitions and cross-party cooperation. However, they would need to agree on introducing a PR system to replace FPTP. This is very long overdue.

    Without PR and with, say, a three- to four-way split, the electoral outcome could be incredibly bizarre, unpredictable and extremely unfair. Past examples were in 1983 when the Conservative party won a landslide majority of 140+ on a reduced percentage of the vote or 2005 when the Labour party won a very large majority on only 35% of the vote.

  • Politics in the UK is broken – and that could potentially be even more damaging than Brexit. Fixing it will be really difficult. Fixing it in the event of a disastrous Brexit will be far more difficult and perhaps impossible.

    The Article 50 letter should be withdrawn and all efforts should be focussed on sorting out the political mess.
    And then we can have another go at dealing with the Brexit/EU issues.