Brexit optimism on hold

Theresa May’s optimism at reaching a deal on Brexit proved short-lived. Since the Prime Minister took her deal to Parliament at the end of November, she has been faced with overwhelming opposition on all sides.

May’s Government lost three significant votes in the Commons, her anticipated TV debate was cancelled; she endured the reaction of postponing her meaningful Parliamentary vote on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and has been told by Brussels that she must clarify what she wants out of talks. Having survived a vote of no confidence, she is though still standing.

The political drama began to unfold last Wednesday (5 December) as the Government lost three votes in just over an hour finding it in contempt of Parliament for not publishing legal advice, losing a tactical Government amendment to delay publication of the advice and a backbench amendment to give MPs more influence over next steps if the Government lose a meaningful vote. After which, May opened the first of a five-day debate on the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the Future Relationship with the EU.

Fast forward to Monday 10 December, and the Prime Minister decided to delay the much-debated Meaningful Vote (which she was widely expected to lose), and return to Brussels and in order to seek further assurances on the Irish backstop. The Government’s decision to cancel the vote at such a late stage was understandably considered by John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons as “discourteous”.

It was this decision to delay the vote which finally precipitated the vote of no confidence in her leadership. Against rumours of a no confidence vote already circulating, the Chair of the 1922 Backbench Committee, Graham Brady, announced a vote of confidence would take place on Wednesday evening. With tensions high, May survived the vote 200 to 117, though conceding that she would step down as leader ahead of the next General Election

The Prime Minister is now safe from a vote of confidence for 12 months. However, her position is considerably weakened within the Party.

Having survived the attempt to end her Premiership, it has bought the PM more time. May must at some point in the next four weeks put her plan to Parliament for a Meaningful Vote. Had the Meaningful Vote taken place on Tuesday, it is assumed the Withdrawal Agreement would have been defeated.

As it stands, Theresa May is still the PM. Her deal is still on the table. However, having left the summit in Brussels last night after addressing EU leaders, it is evident the meeting didn’t go well. May is being called upon to clarify what she wants out of the talks, in particular around the Irish backstop.

It waits to be seen if the Brussels will come round to the UK’s side thinking. There are some signs of supportive language from EU leaders, which is encouraging. For now though, the message from European leaders remains strong: it will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.

Without a substantial change to the deal, winning a rescheduled Meaningful Vote in January remains in the balance. The quandary of how to deliver Brexit continues.

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