Wednesday 26 June 2019

Editorial: 'Another defining week for Theresa May beckons'

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire


Theresa May's date with EU fate comes tomorrow and all the omens appear rather discouraging. She is most unlikely to get the necessary MPs' approval for her unloved EU-UK divorce deal and is probably in line for a very heavy defeat, opening further weeks of uncertainty.

On Tuesday, the UK House of Commons is at long last to have its say on the British prime minister's Brexit deal. She cancelled the so-called "meaningful vote" on December 10 last because she faced certain defeat by a margin of anywhere between 100 and 200 votes.

The hoped-for change of heart over the Christmas holidays just did not happen. If anything, the iron entered the soul of her opponents within her own party, and the Democratic Unionist Party. The upshot is that the numbers still are not there for her.

As further evidence of her weakness, Mrs May lost two important procedural votes in the House of Commons last week. In the longer term, this may augur well for parliamentary democracy and also shows that there is not an appetite for a no-deal Brexit among the majority of MPs.

We are, however, left with the more immediate problem that there is no clear UK parliamentary majority for any alternative. And approval for Mrs May's deal is the only chance of a stable and trustworthy outcome in the immediate term.

Theresa May has won the admiration of many for the fight she has put up over the past few months. She is still looking at strategies to help her cause, including seeking last-minute assurances from Brussels, possibly accepting a Conservative Eurosceptic amendment intended to give parliament a say on "backstop" provisions, and/or endorsing a Labour Brexiteer proposal to guarantee workers' and environmental rights.

But Mrs May's procedural defeats effectively lessen her chances of "running down the clock" on Brexit and leaving her deal as the only show in town. In practice, she may have just three sitting days from tomorrow to come up with an alternative strategy and the MPs would still have scope to amend those plans.

But so far, no alternative to Mrs May's Brexit plan is anywhere near commanding a majority.

The overwhelming atmosphere is one of confusion and delay. Many observers believe an extension of Britain's Article 50 exit process looks increasingly likely. That would mean Britain would not leave on time on March 29, 2019.

Such a result would be better than the economic carnage of a no-deal Brexit. But it would also just postpone a decision which cannot be dodged for too much longer.

Irish Independent

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