Second Defeat

13 March 2019


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

May Loses Second Brexit Vote


Theresa May was in Brussels on Monday trying to squeeze some kind of concessions out of the EU so her Brexit deal might have a shot at approval in the House of Commons. Like a previous British Prime Minister, she got off the plane waving a piece of paper declaring success. Unlike Neville Chamberlain, whose Munich deal kept the peace in Europe a few months, Ms. May's success lasted barely 24 hours. The House voted on it last night, and the government lost by 149 votes. Today, the Brexit shambles will continue as the House fails to pass legislation permitting Britain to leave the EU without a deal. And on Thursday, there is a vote to delay Brexit for a few weeks or months. It is possible all of these will fail, but one hopes for a delay.

The main problem with yesterday's vote came from the fact that the deal as proposed was largely identical to the deal that failed to pass by 230 votes just two months ago. Ms. May picked up 81 votes because time is running out, and some MPs are putting loyalty to the government over loyalty to reality. No matter what, there was not enough change to shift a couple hundred votes.

Today, the House will reject the idea of a no-deal Brexit. And tomorrow, it will likely vote in favor of a delay because there is no logical alternative. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the possibility that tomorrow's vote will go against an extension, in which case there are no options at all. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that the EU will grant an extension should one be requested.

The last two years have been wasted, and the entire process appears to have been one in which the various factions of the Tory party negotiated (or more accurately, failed to negotiate) with one another. Britain had no set of objectives to achieve in its discussions with the EU because there was no agreement within the Conservative Party.

The former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that there is still time and that, in his experience, things fall into place in the EU at the last minute. He is not wrong. However, if by that he means that there is time to cobble together an entirely new arrangement, he could not be more mistaken. If Brexit is to proceed in just over a fortnight, the agreement the House has shot down twice is going to form more than the core of the future arrangement.

The main stumbling block, but not the only one to be sure, is the question of the Irish border and the backstop that goes with it to prevent the border from becoming more than a line on a map. Ideally, people crossing it should not notice it beyond the "welcome" and "come back soon" signs. Implementing the deal on the table with an acknowledgment that the border issue would be resolved by a working group of experts who must have a plan by the end of 2020 might just work. If the Democratic Unionists who are keeping Ms. May's minority government in power accept the idea, there could be a majority (barely) in the House.

Another troubling issue is the continued presence of Ms. May at Number 10. She has lost on her signature piece of legislation twice now. Both times, the margin of defeat was huge, 230 votes the first time and 149 yesterday. Yet, the voices demanding her resignation and a general election are few. The Labour Party has abdicated its responsibility to hold the government accountable. Two such defeats, and Mr. Corbyn seems content to let the Conservatives continue to run the country. So much for his radicalism.

Without a general election and without a second referendum that might provide a clue as to what should happen next, the next 16 days will be a very long and significant embarrassment to everyone in Britain, to everyone who is a friend of Britain, to Europe and to the idea of democracy.

The worst part is that this was all entirely avoidable.

© Copyright 2019 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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