With barely one month until Brexit Day, Prime Minister Theresa May is no closer to passing a version of her Brexit withdrawal agreement, and members of her own cabinet have resorted to open mutiny against the PM as the simmering terror that the UK might actually drive over the ‘no deal’ cliff grips lawmakers in all parties.
During a flight to Egypt on Sunday, where she will meet with EU and Middle Eastern leaders at a Red Sea resort during the EU-Arab League summit, May told reporters that she wouldn’t fire Home secretary Amber Rudd, business secretary Greg Clark and justice secretary David Gauke, who declared in a column published by the Daily Mail on Saturday that they would support the amendment proposed by Labour MP Yvette Cooper to force May to request a Brexit Day delay if no treaty has been passed by mid-March. May has opposed the Cooper amendment, and all other attempts to delay Brexit Day or take a ‘no deal’ Brexit off the table, arguing that they are vital negotiating tactics.
With discipline in the ranks breaking down, May tried to quell the growing discontent with her leadership by promising that a “meaningful vote” on her “Plan B” Brexit Deal will be held by March 12 (though, to be fair, she promised that the vote on Plan B would be held by the end of February, and after cancelling a vote that was planned for this week, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen). By delaying the vote, and promising to continue negotiations with the EU, May is making what many see as a last-ditch effort to stop Parliament from wresting control of the process from No. 10, something they’ve been trying to accomplish for weeks now.
Here’s more from the FT:
Speaking on a plane on her way to the EU-Arab League summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, she said that she would continue the “positive talks” with the EU this week and “as a result of that we won’t bring a [second] meaningful vote to parliament this week, but we will ensure that happens by March 12”. The choice of date is an attempt to circumvent MPs’ attempts to extend Brexit talks. A proposal by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, which parliament is due to debate on Wednesday, would give MPs the ability to seek an extension to the Article 50 exit process if no deal has been approved by parliament by March 13.
A vote by March 12 would give Parliament enough time to produce a decision before a crucial EU summit later that month (the last chance for the UK and the EU27 to cut a workable deal, with either the EU27 caving on the backstop, or May’s fractious Tories finally relenting and agreeing to support the withdrawal agreement as it stands, with only non-binding legal assurances from the Continent that the backstop, should it be triggered, not become a permanent arrangement).
Of course, after two years of tedious negotiations that have seemingly gone nowhere, most Britons have grown numb to the “one-step-forward, two-steps-back” rhythm of the ongoing Brexit trainswreck. So when May confirmed that there wouldn’t be a vote this week, as many had expected, many couldn’t help but crack a joke.
Adding to the pressure facing May’s government, Business Secretary Greg Clark told a group of business executives on Tuesday that May’s government had been so focused on striking a deal with the EU, that independent free-trade agreements with other non-EU member states wouldn’t be ready by Brexit Day, as the government had promised. These include vital trade pacts with Japan and South Korea.
“Unfortunately not all of the FTAs – and I might mention the Japan and Korean ones that are important – are expected to be concluded in time,” Clark told executives and journalists on Tuesday at the annual conference of the MakeUK manufacturing lobby group. “That is one of the reasons why I think it is so important that we should not leave without a deal.”
Members of Parliament, the British public and even members of her own cabinet have grown tired of May’s ineffectual rule and haphazard management of the process. No wonder it’s looking increasingly likely that she will be ousted in the very near future.