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Analysis

This deal is a dead parrot. Only PM is pretending it’s alive

by Hugo Dixon | 11.12.2018

This deal is no more. It has ceased to be. It has gone to meet its maker. Like the pet shop owner in Monty Python’s “dead parrot” sketch, the only person still pretending there’s life in the prime minister’s Brexit deal is Theresa May herself.

Make no mistake. Although no votes were taken in Parliament yesterday, as soon as the prime minister admitted her deal was going down in flames and aborted today’s meaningful vote, this was a defeat in all but name.

Her trip around European capitals looking for help will be another exercise in humiliation. With the European Commission president saying there is “no room whatsoever” for renegotiation, the best she can hope to do is  put lipstick on a corpse. The sooner the deal is buried and Parliament can solve the political crisis with a People’s Vote the better.

Fears that May will keep her deal in suspended animation, run down the clock until the last minute and the present MPs with a choice between her deal or crashing out of the EU are exaggerated. Although technically she could delay a vote until January 21 – the deadline Downing Street says it is committed to – the politics of this are difficult.

MPs on all sides of the House are furious. The prime minister has lost control and credibility. So have key ministers who, until the last minute, were saying it was “100%” certain that the meaningful vote would go ahead.

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The ball is now in Labour’s court. It has said it wants to try to force a general election before backing a People’s Vote. Fair enough. But it’s also saying it will bring a vote of no confidence against the prime minister when MPs vote down her deal.

Jeremy Corbyn may be able to hold that position for a short period of time. But if the government doesn’t bring its deal to the vote fast, he will have to launch his vote of no confidence anyway. Otherwise the public, Labour supporters and party members will all conclude that he is deliberately stalling – and is happy for May to run down the clock.

Everybody else also needs to get off the fence too. Newspapers that have backed the deal so far, such as The Times, the Mail and the FT, need to be honest that it is now a dead parrot. The same goes for bastions of industry such as the CBI.

If anybody has a viable plan B, let them put it on the table now – or forever hold their peace. This goes for soft Brexiters as well as hard Brexiters such as Boris Johnson, all of whom are still peddling fantasies. History will not look kindly on those who waste more time in the coming weeks.

When the pet shop owner in the Monty Python sketch finally admits the parrot is dead and is asked if there’s a replacement, he says he only has a slug. The fine plumage promised by the Brexiters was also fake. We only have a slug of a deal. All other options must be rapidly disposed of and the people given the final say on whether they still want Brexit.

This piece was updated after the European Commission president’s comments on how there was no room for renegotiation and Downing Street’s comments on the timing of a vote

Edited by Luke Lythgoe