Economy / Finance, Politics

Brexit: Will Theresa May try to take back control?

Mar 22 2019

Laura Kuenssberg –  Political editor, BBC

What now?

Theresa May has been granted a little breathing space. The EU has allowed a few more days to try to get her deal through the House of Commons.

But it’s not the timetable that she chose.

And as things stand, the expectation that the compromise deal will get through is low.

And, more to the point, the government does not believe that it can hold off another attempt by a powerful cross-party group of MPs who are resolved to put Parliament forcibly in charge of the process to find alternatives.

Ministers are therefore today not just wondering about how to manage one last heave for the prime minister’s deal, but what they should do next, when – odds on – the whole issue is in the hands of the Commons, not Number 10.

Within days, MPs will push for a series of votes on different versions of Brexit – the “Norway” model, another referendum, Labour’s version of Brexit with a customs union, the list goes on.

But here’s the dilemma.

Does Theresa May just wait for Parliament to do what one minister describes as “grab control of the order paper”?

Softer Brexit?

Or should they instead try to lead the process, forcing what another member of the cabinet described as a “fresh start”, even though it seems “ludicrous” to be resetting the whole process in this way at this stage?

Some in the government believe the best choice is to take charge of this next stage – to lead the process as Parliament and the opposition parties try to find a new compromise.

Sounds like a no brainer.

But there is a real hesitation over whether the Labour frontbench are really interested in trying to find a compromise or will, ultimately, be too tempted by the political opportunity of pulling the rug from under the government at the very last minute.

And given that the majority of MPs are, theoretically, in favour of a softer Brexit than the one the prime minister has negotiated, could Theresa May really preside over a process that would end up there?

But if the government sits back and just lets Parliament get on with it, then Number 10 accepts becoming a passenger – entirely in the hands of the MPs whose behaviour the prime minister so reviled in that controversial address in Number 10 on Wednesday night.

Don’t forget – for many Brexiteers in the Conservative Party, the idea of a softer Brexit than the one the prime minister has negotiated is nothing short of an abomination.

(That could, in a hypothetical world, mean that more of them are willing to back Theresa May’s deal than currently expected – if it is the “hardest” brexit that is on offer).

So for Theresa May’s survival as leader of the Conservative Party, there is a case, strange as it sounds, for her to hang back from leading the next phase.

If Parliament chooses a softer Brexit in the end, it could suit Mrs May not to have her fingerprints on it.

But is it really a tenable leadership strategy, choosing not to lead?

Choices running out

Brexit has done some very strange things to our political process. The reality is though, if Theresa May next week accepts the will of Parliament and it is “soft Brexit”, the reaction from the Conservative Party could be explosive.

Frankly, the choices for Theresa May are running out.

Many Tories on all sides of the debate are deeply alarmed by how things have unravelled in the last few days.

One senior, influential, MP who has been studiously loyal to the prime minister is incandescent, saying that she has “angered all the people whose support she needed”, and that “she is the most stubborn and ill-suited person for this job”.

Another former minister suggests Theresa May’s deal still could pass, but only if she tempts Labour rebels across with a promise of a referendum to give the public the chance to rubber stamp it, or “we’ll have a new PM with a new plan”, and maybe soon.

‘Super dangerous’

One current member of the government says “only Number Ten can’t see that she is on her way out”.

Another minister says the situation is “super dangerous”.

All of the fundamental factors that have preserved her so far remain – there is no obvious alternative plan that is certain to get a majority of MPs on side.

There is no obvious leader in waiting that the whole Conservative Party would gladly choose. The Labour Party have their own battles with their own divisions over Brexit.

The traditional claim of TINA – There Is No Alternative – has helped Theresa May hang on.

But now an alternative to her deal is likely to be forced upon her, one that could make her leadership impossible to maintain.

Theresa May arrives back in Number 10 today having won a little bit of extra time, but she has less and less space to breathe.

—————

Annexes:

Brexit: What just happened?

BBC World

Media caption”I hope we can all agree we are now at the moment of decision”

The EU has agreed to postpone Brexit from next Friday and give UK Prime Minister Theresa May more time to get her deal approved in Parliament.

But – and with Brexit there is always a but – it is not as simple as it may sound. Here is what just happened, why it matters, and what might happen next.

What happened in Brussels?

Mrs May was forced to ask EU leaders to delay Brexit after the UK Parliament twice overwhelmingly rejected the deal she had agreed with the EU on how to withdraw from the bloc and voted against a no-deal exit.

EU leaders are among those who fear the UK leaving the bloc without a deal would lead to chaos.

Mrs May had hoped to persuade the EU to delay the 29 March Brexit date – which is set in law – to 30 June. Instead the 27 EU leaders offered her two dates:

A delay until 22 May if MPs approve her withdrawal deal in a vote next week

A shorter delay until 12 April if they reject it. By that time the UK must set out its next steps – either another extension or leaving without a deal

But the EU says a further extension beyond 12 April is only possible if the UK agrees to hold European elections on 23 May.

Mrs May has said the UK will not take part in the vote.

The EU’s offer means a no-deal Brexit is considerably less likely on 29 March. But it is not off the table yet and the way forward is far from clear.

What will happen next?

MPs are expected to vote for a third time on the Brexit deal, possibly on Tuesday.

Speaker John Bercow had originally refused a third vote on the deal unless what was put forward must be substantially different to be voted on.

They also have to agree to change the 29 March date to leave the EU.

If MPs approve her deal…

The UK leaves under Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement on 22 May, to enable Parliament to pass all the legislation needed.

But getting it approved will be a tough task for Mrs May, especially after she angered MPs on Wednesday by going on television to essentially blame them for the impasse.

She did offer a more conciliatory tone on Thursday but it remains to be seen if she will be able to convince MPs to back her agreement.

If MPs reject her deal…

The UK could still leave with no deal on 12 April if a way forward is not found. But other options include:

Parliament could try to take control of the process and offer a new strategy. MPs have been told that if the deal is rejected they can hold a series of “indicative” votes to see if there is a majority for any particular alternative, such as staying in the EU Customs Union

Mrs May would then know which option had most support in Parliament. She would then have to agree to pursue a new policy for the EU to reopen talks

The opposition Labour party could table a vote of no confidence aimed at bringing down Mrs May’s government – but it would require the support of some of Mrs May’s own Conservatives. It is not clear what would happen to the dates set by the EU

Mrs May could ask Parliament to hold an early general election or, most unlikely, call another referendum. Again, it is not entirely clear what would happen in that scenario

Article 50, the two-year treaty provision that the UK invoked to leave the bloc in 2017, could be revoked by Mrs May, delaying Brexit indefinitely. But she is strongly opposed to that. A petition calling for the article to be revoked has reached more than three million signatures

How does the EU see it?

EU leaders were reportedly unconvinced by Theresa May’s assurance that she could convince the UK Parliament to back her withdrawal deal.

Mrs May made her case for a delay in a 90-minute presentation to her European counterparts and then left the room and the discussions continued for eight hours.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he thought she had a chance of 10% of having her deal approved but after listening to her he had cut his estimate to 5%, Reuters news agency said.

European Council President Donald Tusk replied that Mr Macron was being “very optimistic”, it reported.

But the end could be in sight?

Not yet. It is worth remembering that the debate now is focused on the terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union.

The conditions of the future relationship between the country and the bloc still have to be negotiated.

———————–

Brexit: Departure date pushed back by at least two weeks

Media caption”I hope we can all agree we are now at the moment of decision”

Theresa May has been granted an extra two weeks to come up with a Brexit solution after talks with EU leaders.

The UK’s departure date had originally been set for 29 March.

If Mrs May can get her withdrawal deal through Parliament next week, that date will be pushed back to 22 May to give time to pass the necessary legislation.

If the prime minister can’t get the deal through, the UK will have to propose a way forward by 12 April for EU leaders to consider.

European Council President Donald Tusk said all Brexit options would remain open until then.

“The UK government will still have a choice between a deal, no deal, a long extension or revoking Article 50,” he said.

“The 12 April is a key date in terms of the UK deciding whether to hold European Parliament elections.

“If it has not decided to do so by then, the option of long extension will automatically become impossible.”

Mrs May ruled out revoking Article 50, which would cancel Brexit, and she also said “it would be wrong” to ask Britons to vote for candidates for the elections to the European Parliament, due to be held from 23-26 May, three years after they voted to leave the EU.

The UK’s departure date is still written in to law as next Friday, 29 March.

Timeline

29 March: Current Brexit date in UK law

12 April: If MPs do not approve the withdrawal deal next week – “all options will remain open” until this date. The UK must propose a way forward before this date for consideration by EU leaders.

22 May: If MPs do approve the deal next week, Brexit will be delayed until this date

23-26 May: European Parliamentary elections are held across member states

Mrs May is expected to table secondary legislation – that has to go through the Commons and the Lords by next Friday – to remove 29 March from UK law.

But Downing Street sources say an agreement with the EU to extend the Brexit deadline would be a piece of international law and would take precedence even if Parliament rejected it.

Mrs May said MPs had a “clear choice”.

Speaking on Thursday, after waiting for the 27 other EU countries to make their decision at a summit in Brussels, the prime minister said she would now be “working hard to build support for getting the deal through”.

The withdrawal deal, negotiated over two years between the UK and EU, sets out the terms of the UK’s departure from the bloc, including the “divorce bill”, the transition period, citizens’ rights and the controversial “backstop” arrangements, aimed at preventing a return to border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

But it must be approved by UK MPs, who have already rejected it twice by large margins.

MPs are expected to vote for a third time on it next week, despite Commons Speaker John Bercow saying what is put forward must be substantially different to be voted on.

Theresa May has been granted a little breathing space. The EU has allowed a few more days to try to get her deal through the House of Commons.

But it’s not the timetable that she chose.

And as things stand, the expectation that the compromise deal will get through is low.

And, more to the point, the government does not believe that it can hold off another attempt by a powerful cross-party group of MPs who are resolved to put Parliament forcibly in charge of the process to find alternatives.

Ministers are therefore today not just wondering about how to manage one last heave for the prime minister’s deal, but what they should do next, when – odds on – the whole issue is in the hands of the Commons, not Number 10.

 

site admin