Theresa May continues to kick the can down the road with regard to what to do about Brexit following the historic government defeat on 29 January. She has delayed, obfuscated, and stubbornly refused to change direction. The EU27 have been adamant that there can be no further changes to the legally binding text that was signed off between them and the UK government in November, as they stand with Ireland in refusing to tear up the Good Friday Agreement (which is, in effect, what May is demanding). May nonetheless says she will put the deal to Parliament on March 12, whether or not she has secured any changes to it.
If this falls again (which is extremely likely, given nothing will have substantially changed) the government will then ask MPs the following day if they wish to proceed with a no-deal Brexit. This would be an economic and financial disaster for the entire country and would affect Yorkshire and other northern regions more severely than London and the southeast as even the government’s own assessments make clear.Labour (and other opposition parties) have been absolutely clear that they will oppose this, as have many Conservative MPs including several Cabinet ministers. So the no-deal option will almost certainly be taken off the table.
But what then? Well finally, Theresa May had to admit at the dispatch box that the UK might have to ask for an extension of Article 50 beyond the notorious deadline she has for two years insisted was immovable. Parliament will be given a vote on this on the 14 March. But this will not in and of itself ensure that the cliff edge is avoided. First, the EU27 will need to agree to this unanimously, and they have been clear that although they would be willing to agree an extension, it would need to have a clearer purpose than simply providing a few more weeks or months of continued procrastination and civil war in the Conservative Party.
Labour, having put an alternative Brexit option on the table and seen it rejected by the government, has now called for Brexit to be put back to the people, with an option to remain, a position that I have advocated for some time. This is in accordance with our conference resolution.
There is not yet a majority in the Commons for another referendum. There may well be enough Tory rebels to vote in favour of one, but there are a handful of Labour MPs who are still reticent about the idea. I have responded to their arguments here.
Finally, there was some positive movement on May’s disgraceful treatment of EU citizens living in the UK (many for decades) in that she accepted an amendment from one of its own MPs, Alberto Costa, knowing that she would suffer another humiliating defeat otherwise. This guarantees some of their rights – a position Theresa May had previously been shamefully reluctant to adopt, preferring instead to use people as bargaining chips in her failing negotiations.