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Analysis

May is definitely time wasting. But towards what?

by Luke Lythgoe | 13.02.2019

Theresa May’s Brexit tactic is clear: run down the clock and force MPs into backing the government’s unpopular deal. She denies this is the case, claiming she wanted Brexit “sorted before Christmas”. But it’s hard to ignore two years of the prime minister’s time wasting, which I break down in this article for InFacts.

The evidence for May’s can-kicking strategy was strong yesterday. Pro-Brexit minister Andrea Leadsom kicked off with an interview on the BBC’s Today programme, opening up the possibility that MPs would be asked to vote at a moment of peak jeopardy. Then during the prime minister’s statement to the Commons – itself a request for MPs to give her more time – May suggested the normal 21 days Parliament needed to consider a new international treaty could be fast forwarded in the case of Brexit, allowing for a last-minute decision.

The final moment came from an overheard comment by May’s chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, in a Brussels bar. An ITV journalist heard Robbins say MPs had to believe that “if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one”. This opens an interesting question: what is May running down the clock to? A choice between her deal and no-deal chaos, or her deal and a lengthy extension of Brexit.

Either way, MPs don’t have to let May hang this choice over them. To poach a phrase from the prime minister, they should hold their nerve.

Votes in Parliament on Valentine’s Day are already looking like a bit of a non-event. But May was forced into giving important ground yesterday when she guaranteed another amendable motion at the end of February – except in the unlikely scenario the government’s deal passes by then.

MPs are already making plans to take control of the Brexit process from of our time-wasting premier. A new cross-party plan, led by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tories Oliver Letwin and Caroline Spelman, would table an amendment guaranteeing parliamentary time for a bill to give MPs a vote between no deal and an extension to Article 50.

There are still plenty of ways for MPs to avoid being bounced into a bad deal. And make no mistake, the government’s proposal is bad. It’s not just the backstop, which Brexiters make so much noise about. The deal would also leave us poorer. We would follow many EU rules without a say at the top table. And it would mean years of uncertainty as we try to work out our future relationship with our closest neighbours. It’s a blindfold Brexit which ditches the good deal we currently have with the EU and replaces it with a vague, unknown future.

MPs and the people of this country don’t have to swallow this or any other bad Brexit. That’s why our elected representatives in Parliament must back a People’s Vote.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

One Response to “May is definitely time wasting. But towards what?”

  • Theresa May’s cynical running down the clock strategy is doomed to fail for 2 main reasons.
    1. There is no way that the legislation, or just the day to day operational arrangements, will be anywhere near by by 29th March.
    2. She fundamentally misunderstands where the EU are coming from. The EU think that if a No Deal Brexit happens, the UK will be hit far harder. Even if they were to be wrong about this, that there is their widely spread view, and so they will not be caving in at the eleventh hour, as a number of Government supporters think.