Friday 19 July 2019

John Downing: 'With defeat all but assured, it's now about how big margin is'

 

A narrow defeat in the 650-seat House of Commons could embolden Mrs May to press MPs to reconsider the issue in a second vote. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A narrow defeat in the 650-seat House of Commons could embolden Mrs May to press MPs to reconsider the issue in a second vote. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
John Downing

John Downing

Please forgive the strained GAA comparison. But this is somehow reminiscent of talk about the Kildare footballers keeping the losing margin against the Dubs to single digits - as in nine points or fewer.

If Theresa May can go down by a tonne - or less - this evening, it might be deemed 'a result'. But we have already moved on to talk about what happens next with the scale of this evening's defeat deemed a factor.

Mrs May has a record of sticking to her task in the face of major setbacks, and she will be difficult to dislodge against her will. Labour's expected effort to topple the government through a no-confidence vote is unlikely to win sufficient support.

A narrow defeat in the 650-seat House of Commons could embolden Mrs May to press MPs to reconsider the issue in a second vote.

It might help if she could be seen to wring new concessions on contentious aspects of her Brexit plan from Brussels. But thanks to votes last week, she must also lay out any next steps to parliament by Monday.

There was a sense that the EU - with its joint letter of comfort from its two big wigs, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk - was acting out its role, but saving its real fire-power for later. The EU power-brokers already knew that the UK politicians knew their offering yesterday would not really cut any political ice.

The Juncker-Tusk joint clarification that talks would move swiftly towards making a long-term post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal, which would be implemented very swiftly, was genuine and generous.

It again emphasised that the Irish Border backstop was a fall-back which need never be used. But, for the mixed-up ultra Brexiteers, this renewed assurance was already known to be inadequate.

What could next be offered to haul things back from the brink?

Well, something similar in the line of assurances, but given a legal gloss, as has happened several times in the past - even in the case of Ireland after voters rejected the EU Treaty of Lisbon in 2008.

From this evening, the stage is set for further political convulsions which will test the UK's political institutions, deemed stable up to now, and the country's arcane constitution. The House of Commons vote will leave the status of Brexit in doubt just over 10 weeks before the UK's scheduled departure from the EU.

There is so much rampant division in UK politics on the issue that officials in Brussels and London expect the process to be delayed beyond the March 29 deadline.

The pound sterling, that Brexit barometer in financial markets, has already rallied against the US dollar in recent days on the increased likelihood that Brexit could be delayed.

It is clear that losing by 70 to 100 votes would make success harder - but not impossible - for Theresa May. A defeat in excess of 100 votes would likely spell the end of Mrs May's withdrawal deal and force her to think again.

Irish Independent

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