Wednesday 24 July 2019

What next for Theresa May as Brexit clock keeps ticking

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement following winning a confidence vote, after Parliament rejected her Brexit deal, outside 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May makes a statement following winning a confidence vote, after Parliament rejected her Brexit deal, outside 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

British Prime Minister Theresa May is due before the House of Commons on Monday where she will set out her Plan B after her Brexit blueprint was roundly defeated last week.

The Withdrawal Agreement was subject of the greatest parliamentary humiliation of a serving prime minister in the modern era, but Mrs May survived a vote of no confidence 24 hours later.

Here we look at what could happen next:

Theresa May resigns

While the PM has said she will not lead the Tories into another general election, she has consistently ruled out quitting before Brexit.

Plan B is activated

The Prime Minister has yet to reveal what her fallback position is. Under the terms of an amendment tabled by Dominic Grieve and controversially passed by MPs, she has until Monday to present a new plan to the Commons.

While the details of this Plan B are not clear, the chairman of the Eurosceptic European Research Group, Jacob Rees-Mogg, wrote in the Mail on Sunday that it was possible for Mrs May to get a deal through the Commons if she persuaded the EU to show flexibility on the backstop and £39 billion divorce bill.

Caricatures of Conservative politicians are driven past the Houses of Parliament on January 15, 2019 in London
(Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Caricatures of Conservative politicians are driven past the Houses of Parliament on January 15, 2019 in London (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

"If I had to choose between no deal and Mrs May's original accord, I would have no hesitation of opting for no-deal Brexit but even Mrs May's deal would be better than not leaving at all," he wrote.

Mrs May has offered to talk to opposition parties and groups with different desires and views to find consensus in Parliament. But her refusal to abandon no-deal Brexit and other leaders' refusal to speak properly until she does suggests one party will need to cede some ground.

Also writing in the Mail on Sunday, the chief Brexit representative for the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, said: "If necessary, this document could still be enhanced in the next coming weeks.

"British politicians will always find an open door to do that, but they must act soon.

"This will only happen if political parties in the UK start to work together.

"Such a cross-party approach is not natural to the adversarial UK political system, but it's time to change course and to put the national interest ahead of narrow party political interests."

Other options include:

Confidence vote 2.0

The opposition can in theory call as many of these votes as they like, although the Lib Dems have said they will not support another as they believe it is a waste of time.

Such a vote could trigger a general election but this is very much the nuclear option for Tory rebels and the DUP have already said they will not vote with Labour, so it appears to be a forlorn hope.

Back to Brussels

Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

The EU has said repeatedly that it will not reopen negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement, and "assurances" on the Irish border backstop were dismissed by Brexiteers earlier this week. There is little time and no clear indication what more the EU can or wants to offer. France has stepped up its no-deal preparations.

Asking for an extension of Article 50

Mrs May has previously insisted almost to the point of foot-stamping that Britain will leave the EU on March 29, and a U-turn here would enrage already puce Brexiteers.

Halting Article 50

A court case last year ruled that, while all 27 other EU states have to agree to extend the Article 50 process of leaving, the UK can unilaterally reverse it. Neither the Tories nor Labour support a halt but Philip Hammond reportedly told business leaders in a conference call on Wednesday that a bill being rustled up by backbenchers would have this as its aim.

No-deal Brexit

If Theresa May loses and Parliament cannot come together behind an alternative, the UK will leave the European Union on March 29 without a deal. This is something to either be afraid of, or not afraid of, depending on your view of Brexit.

A second referendum

Labour members at conference left the door open to supporting a new vote on leaving if the party could not trigger a general election. Mr Corbyn was applauded by Labour activists when he pointed this out in a speech on Thursday. But he also indicated he would rather leave with a Labour-flavoured Withdrawal Agreement.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve wrote in the Sunday Times: "I have made no secret of my support for the People's Vote campaign but it is important to recognise that this idea may well gain support only at the end of a process when every possible Brexit option has been explored.

"I do not doubt that legislating for a new referendum is a difficult decision and the last resort for many MPs.

"We must, however, pursue this debate with courtesy, listening to those of other views and finding areas of common interest, but keeping our own preference in mind. I am convinced on grounds both of common sense and the national interest that a new public vote will be helpful to resolving this crisis."

 

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