“What happens now that May’s Brexit deal has been defeated again?”, The Guardian
Peter Walker, London, 12 Mar, 2019
Votes on no deal and extending article 50 to go ahead but long-term outlook remains unclear
Theresa May’s second attempt to pass her Brexit deal has again been badly defeated, this time by a majority of 149.
What happens next?
As promised in advance by Theresa May, the next step will be motions on successive days to see first if MPs want to rule out a no-deal departure and then, if they do, whether they wish to extend article 50 and delay the Brexit process. The Conservatives will have a free vote on no deal. May stressed that Wednesday’s vote would not rule out no deal for ever – just for now. And if MPs decline to rule out no deal, she said, it will become official government policy.
What does this mean for Theresa May?
Whatever happens, it’s not good news. Badly losing two Commons votes on your government’s flagship policy is unprecedented for a modern prime minister, and in any other political era would herald their imminent eviction from Downing Street. There had been speculation that May could even resign if she lost again. While she has not, she is badly weakened, and the challenges will surely come. For now, MPs’ focus is on seeking to shape Brexit, and few would probably want to immediately take on her onerous task. But – as with everything in this matter – events could move very quickly.
Could she present her deal yet again?
It’s possible. Speaking after the defeat, May’s spokesman refused to rule it out, reiterating the PM’s belief that departure with a deal is the better option, and that hers is the best deal on offer. In the interim, he said, MPs had some “very significant decisions to make”.
How long could Brexit be delayed?
That depends, not least on whether MPs support this. May is adamant that if there is a pause it should be brief and not one that would require the UK to take part in the upcoming European elections, taking place in 10 weeks’ time. But any Commons motion on extending article 50 will be amendable, and parliament might take another view.
Does this count as a victory for the ERG?
The Conservative hard-Brexiters from the European Research Group played a key role in sinking the deal, and their leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg, told reporters beforehand he assumed that the next step would be a no-deal Brexit. However, this is something of a roll of the dice, especially as the consensus is that there is nowhere near a Commons majority for such an exit. Before the vote, the Tory MP Nick Boles warned the ERG that if they voted against the deal then centrist Tories would “do whatever it takes to frustrate you”, including a delay to departing the EU and cross-party efforts to seek a majority for a softer Brexit deal.
Could May seek a softer Brexit?
Seemingly not, at least not yet. After the vote her spokesman reiterated the prime minister’s opposition to any Brexit deal that involves a customs union. Meanwhile the EU has indicated that it has no appetite for further talks.
What will Labour do next?
While pushing for a second referendum is still among the party’s official demands, in responding to May’s defeat, Jeremy Corbyn spoke mainly about again pushing Labour’s Brexit plan – which involves membership of a customs union, or the idea of a general election. But again, things could change quickly, and those MPs who back a second referendum have not given up on the idea.
Could there be a general election?
That is what some Conservative backbenchers loyal to May were warning would inevitably happen if she lost the latest vote. This is likely to have been intended as an extra warning to would-be Tory rebels, one that went largely unobserved. An election could still happen, but that would involve extending article 50 for longer than the government wants.