May’s final chance to break Brexit deadlock

Cunning: May said there is a “substantial” majority of MPs who want a Brexit deal.

MPs have backed Theresa May’s plan to renegotiate her Brexit deal in a last-ditch attempt to get it through Parliament. But as the EU declares it will not budge, has the PM run out of road?

“It will not be easy.”

That was Theresa May’s response after a dramatic night of voting in Westminster, in which MPs backed her bid to secure last-minute changes to the Brexit agreement. Her original deal was hated by MPs — two weeks ago, they rejected it in a humiliating defeat for the prime minister.

But now they have given May one more opportunity; one chance to try Plan B.

It revolves around one key issue: the Irish backstop. This is the controversial backup plan designed to prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland if Britain and Brussels fail to agree on a trade deal. Brexiteers hate it because they worry it will stop the UK from properly leaving the EU.

May’s plan is to reopen negotiations and replace this backstop with legally binding “alternative arrangements”. It is unclear what these arrangements might be, but May hopes they will satisfy MPs when she gives them a decisive vote in two weeks time.

The big question is: will the EU be willing to renegotiate? The initial signs are not good for the prime minister.

“The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation,” insisted Donald Tusk, the European Council president.

May’s opponents at home were also withering. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon accused the prime minister of “[chasing] a fairytale”. Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable called the move “foolish and certainly dangerous because it’s raising expectations of something that’s very unlikely to be delivered.”

How true this is remains to be seen. Beneath the bullish rhetoric of the EU, some suspect that a compromise could be reached — perhaps by adding additional text to the withdrawal agreement rather than renegotiating sections of it completely.

One thing is for certain: the Brexit cliff-edge creeps ever nearer.

MPs have just 58 days to approve a plan and avoid a no-deal Brexit. In another non-binding vote last night, the Commons rejected the possibility of no-deal.

But can Theresa May return with a deal they will actually vote for?


After humiliating defeats and weeks of torment, last night would have felt like a victory for the prime minister. But was anything substantial actually achieved? Can we really expect the EU to cave to these demands? Could May be back on track, or has she merely delayed her inevitable defeat?

Some expect May to come back empty-handed, but what then? Would a second referendum break the deadlock? Should Brexit be delayed — even cancelled? Remainers would rejoice, but some say this would be an unacceptable betrayal of all those who voted for Brexit in the first place.

You Decide

  1. Is Theresa May the best person to deliver Brexit?
  2. Should Brexit be reversed?


  1. If you were to vote in a second referendum, would you vote to leave or remain in the EU? Why? Discuss your thoughts in small groups and feed back to the class.
  2. Watch the video in Become An Expert which explains the Northern Ireland backstop. Find another article online about the same topic. Now, in your own words, write a paragraph explaining how the backstop works and why it is important.

Some People Say...

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Samuel Beckett

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Currently, Britain is leaving the EU on March 29 with a deal or without. Yesterday, MPs voted against a proposal to delay Brexit, however, they may vote on this issue again. The Commons also rejected no-deal as an option, however, not in a way that is legally binding. Both the government and the EU are continuing preparations in the event of no-deal.
What do we not know?
Whether Theresa May will be able to secure significant changes in the withdrawal agreement from the EU. Officials have insisted that renegotiation is not possible, however, some think that compromise could happen. Even if May does return with concessions there is no guarantee that Parliament would vote for her proposals.

Word Watch

This happened by MPs voting for a proposal put forward by Tory MP Sir Graham Brady. The proposal was passed by 16 votes.
It was the largest defeat for a sitting government since 1924. May lost by 230 votes.
Hard border
Without the backstop, a border would be needed because Ireland would remain in the EU, while Northern Ireland would not — necessitating customs checks on goods. See the video in Become An Expert to find out more.
Trade deal
This has not yet been negotiated by the two sides. Under the current arrangement there will be a transition period in which a trade deal will be worked out.
Properly leaving
A major concern for Brexiteers is that Britain would not be able to exit the backstop without the agreement of the EU. The backstop also keeps the UK closely tied to EU rules on trade.
Intended to humiliate.

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