The PM is sticking to her deal, hoping Brussels will change wording in the Political Declaration to be more finite on the Backstop.

 

British Prime Minister Theresa May has lost another vote in the House of Commons approving her “Brexit Next Steps”. The 303 “Noes” vs 250 “Ayes” demonstrate the dissatisfaction in the House and that Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has failed and the unity displayed last week was purely superficial.

Leavers fear the government is trying to avoid the “No Deal” option. This vote was on the understanding that “No Deal-WTO terms” was still the alternative to May’s deal; and the next Brexit steps would include the “Malthouse Compromise”, which requires changes to the unlimited commitment to the Backstop and keeping UK in a perpetual customs union. On its own, this would have got the support of a majority of Conservatives and a few Labour MPs. But the small print also linked the vote to the Spellman amendment, which passed on 29 January and is non-binding but a clear indication of parliamentary opposition to a “No Deal”. Was this an accidental linking or a conjuring trick to deadlock the result? It was enough to make Brexiteer ERG MPs to abstain from voting.

At the time of writing, the PM is sticking stubbornly to her deal, hoping Brussels will change the wording in the Political Declaration to be more finite on the Backstop, which will not satisfy the powerful ERG Brexiteers. EU27 leaders will again see that May cannot command a majority in the House, which does nothing for her negotiating position.

The alternative is still a “No Deal”, as David Davis, former Brexit Secretary confirmed, by asking the new Brexit Minister of State, Steve Barclay, if the PM did not manage to get a deal agreed by the EU by 29 March, would the UK still be leaving without a deal? Steve Barclay gave an unequivocal assurance on behalf of the government.

The tragedy is that no one is completely confident if what Barclay says will come true. Barclay is the third Minister of State since July 2016, the previous two (David Davis and Dominic Raab) resigned over disagreements about government practice. This week, civil servant Olly Robbins undermined the PM at a bar in Brussels; Angus Walker from ITV News overheard Robbins saying he believed the outcome would be a deal or an extension. Robbins also revealed that the Backstop was intended to be a “bridge” to Europe. This begs the question was the PM planning to actually leave the customs union?

An extension would be abhorrent to Brexiteers, the equivalent to paralysis and prolonging the dreaded uncertainty. It all boils down to trust in Theresa May; MPs believed May had turned a corner after her January defeat in the Commons, but May seems to have reverted to her typical inflexible/intransigent self and back-pedalled on her assurances.

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