Scorn and disbelief as May delays EU vote

And she marched them down again: Theresa May delayed a key parliamentary vote on Brexit yesterday.

Can she still be trusted? MPs’ vote on the Brexit deal has been delayed. Like the Grand Old Duke of York, Theresa May marched her plan to Parliament only to march it back down again.

The government’s actions yesterday were “deeply discourteous,” admonished the speaker of the House of Commons.

“People are in despair,” said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“Does [Theresa May] not realise how chaotic and ridiculous this makes this country look?” asked MP Yvette Cooper.

“How can anybody […] ever trust a single word that she or her government speaks ever again?” asked MP Hannah Bardell.

What is going on?

For the last three weeks, Theresa May has led a huge campaign to persuade the UK that her Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU was the best possible deal she could get. Ministers have travelled all over the country defending it. Almost £100,000 was spent on Facebook adverts supporting the deal. Parliament spent three days debating it ahead of a “meaningful vote” that was scheduled for today.

Up until around 11am yesterday, that was the plan. Ministers insisted that it would happen “100%”.

But then at around 11:30am, journalists began reporting that the vote would be delayed. At 3:30pm May appeared in Parliament to confirm it.

She admitted that if the vote went ahead, the deal “would be rejected by a significant margin.” Instead, she will return to the EU to seek “reassurances” about the controversial backstop with Northern Ireland which many MPs object to.

Yet time is running out. If Parliament cannot agree on a deal, it risks the UK crashing out of the EU without one. Last month, MPs warned that plans for a “no-deal” Brexit are “worryingly underdeveloped”. And the Irish government has insisted that it will not renegotiate the backstop.

But May says she will speak to EU leaders at a summit this week, and will look for new ways of “empowering” MPs on the subject.

The anger in the House of Commons yesterday was palpable; MPs complain that, like the Grand Old Duke Of York, May has marched them to the top of the hill only to march them down again. (Things didn’t end well for the Duke; the chaos he caused on the battlefield ultimately ended in his death.)

Is May another Duke of York? Can she still be trusted?

Neither up nor down

Of course she can still be trusted, say some. Step away from the parliamentary chaos and this decision starts to look sensible. As the chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, says: “Unless we’ve got the agreement to a point where it can get a majority in the House of Commons, there is no point in having the vote.”

She is a terrible leader, argue others. She has lost 28 ministers since the general election last year. She has spent 18 months negotiating a deal that nobody wants. Calls for a new leader are growing, so she has kicked the crisis down the road a little further — but her indecision will catch up with her eventually.

You Decide

  1. Is Theresa May a good leader?
  2. Should MPs vote for the Brexit deal?

Activities

  1. Look at the cartoon at the top of this story and discuss with your class: What is it saying about Theresa May and Brexit? What does it tell you about yesterday’s events? If you have time, try drawing your own political cartoon about Brexit.
  2. Find out what your local MP thinks about Brexit. Write them a letter explaining why you do, or do not, agree.

Some People Say...

“Of course Brexit means that something is wrong in Europe. But Brexit means also that something was wrong in Britain.”

Jean-Claude Juncker

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The government has deferred the vote on the Brexit withdrawal agreement, despite objections from Parliament. There will be an emergency debate on that decision in Parliament today. It has been clear for some time that the majority of MPs in the House of Commons would not support the deal. There is an EU summit beginning on Thursday, where Theresa May says she will talk to EU leaders about the deal.
What do we not know?
Whether they will agree to make any changes (although yesterday the EU insisted that they will “not renegotiate”.) We also do not know when Parliament will be allowed to vote on the deal. Theresa May suggested that January 21 was the deadline, but the House of Commons Twitter account said it could potentially be delayed until March 28: the day before the UK is due to leave the EU. We do not know what will happen if the vote is lost.

Word Watch

Speaker
The MP who presides over debates in the House. They are not affiliated with a political party, and they do not vote themselves. The job is currently held by John Bercow.
House of Commons
The lower house of Parliament, where 650 MPs vote on new legislation. Currently, Theresa May does not have a majority in the House, making it harder to pass laws.
Withdrawal agreement
The deal includes details about the “transition period” between March 2019 and December 2020. It protects the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa. It also includes backup plans (known as a “backstop”) for Northern Ireland. More on this below.
£100,000
The government spent £96,684 on Facebook adverts in the last week, according to the company’s data.
Backstop
If the Brexit transition period ends without a trade deal, Northern Ireland would have different trading rules to Great Britain under the current plans.
Grand Old Duke Of York
The nursery rhyme is believed to refer to Richard, Duke of York, who was killed in the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. See more under Become An Expert.