Back me and then sack me, says last-ditch May

Adieu: “Vote Brexit and I’ll exit” as the Metro newspaper says this morning

Rarely in British history has there been so much confusion over so many important issues with so little time to sort them out. Here is The Day’s early-morning guide to the key questions.

1/ Has the prime minister just resigned? No. But she has promised that she will do as soon as stage one of Brexit is delivered. On the current timetable agreed with the EU this would be on May 22nd.

But for that to happen, MPs will have to approve her withdrawal agreement by a deadline of April 12th, two weeks from tomorrow. If they do this, there will be an immediate Conservative Party leadership election and a new prime minister within a few weeks. If they do not, she will stay on and try to find another solution.

2/ So will MPs back the withdrawal agreement? This now looks possible and it might even happen as soon as tomorrow. To say it looks possible is itself quite a bold guess. There are massive obstacles to be overcome. Obstacle #1 is that John Bercow, the speaker, who controls the business of the House of Commons, has ruled that Theresa May cannot hold this so-called “meaningful vote” unless her withdrawal agreement is significantly different from the last two times it was voted on and roundly defeated.

Obstacle #2 is that the Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) announced yesterday that it would still vote against the agreement because it threatens the unity of the UK. The DUP is crucial because it represents its own ten votes plus a group of Tory MPs.. The government this morning believes that both the Bercow problem and the DUP problem can be solved.

3/ What about all the alternative ideas? One reason the withdrawal agreement is still an option is because, as one newspaper headline puts it this morning: “Parliament finally has its say: No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.” In other words, all the eight proposals suggested by MPs last night were rejected.

The two most popular options were a second referendum to confirm any deal passed by parliament, which had 268 votes (with 295 votes against) and leaving the EU with a customs union, which had 264 votes (with 272 against). The two options will be debated again on Monday unless Theresa May’s deal passes before then.

4/ Who are the winners and losers? Theresa May looks dignified this morning. Most pundits agree that she has fallen on her sword for the greater good. Jeremy Corbyn looks battered. Labour’s Brexit plan was rejected by a majority of 70 last night.

Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson look humiliated. For months they refused on principle to back May’s proposal. Yesterday they changed their minds because she offered to resign. Today they are widely ridiculed and accused of betrayal by their own side.

The bigger picture?

We are witnessing a defining struggle between government and parliament, between Whitehall and Westminster. Is our unwritten constitution “basically broken” as one peer puts it?

With only six per cent of the electorate agreeing that MPs are doing a good job on Brexit, should we now consider parliament a “house of fools”?

You Decide

  1. Do you admire Theresa May?
  2. Do you think Parliament has done its democratic duty over Brexit?

Activities

  1. Write a short letter to your MP composed entirely of questions. Try to come up with five really important questions about Brexit that you need to have answered.
  2. In the 1642-51 English civil war, parliament came out the clear winner. This time its reputation has undergone serious damage. Discuss.

Some People Say...

“These fools and knaves and cowards are voting on things they don’t even understand.”

Steve Baker (last night at a private meeting of MPs)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
That parliament has ruled out “no deal” or a hard Brexit. That there must be a withdrawal agreement with the EU by April 12th. That the EU will not budge on the date. That we have 14 days to come up with an answer. That the clock, as they say, is ticking rather loudly.
What do we not know?
Hundreds of small things but just two and a half big things. Will Theresa May finally get her withdrawal agreement passed in parliament at the third time of asking? And if not, will she manage to find a way to come up with an alternative in just a few days. (Also: how does she keep going?)

Word Watch

Withdrawal agreement
The draft Brexit withdrawal agreement stands at 599 pages long. It sets out how the UK leaves the European Union, scheduled for 12 April 2019.
Meaningful vote
The "meaningful vote" is the parliamentary vote under the terms of Section 13 of the UK’s European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which requires the government to ratify the Brexit withdrawal agreement
Democratic Unionist Party
Founded by the late Ian Paisley in 1971 at the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles and now led by Arlene Foster, the DUP is the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and is currently the fifth-largest party in the Commons - with ten MPs.
Whitehall and Westminster.
‘Whitehall’ refers not just to the site of the former Palace of Whitehall, but to the bureaucratic institutions of the government in general and is often used as a shorthand for the British government. “Westminster” refers to the UK parliament located in the Palace of Westminster in central London — also known as the Houses of Parliament.