Ten days to save her political life
Britain today faces a rude awakening after the Christmas holidays. Within the next two weeks the country may choose a new deal with the EU, no deal at all — and/or a new prime minister.
As the clock ticks towards the most important event in modern British history, much uncertainty about Brexit remains.
But first, with just 81 days before we are due to leave the EU, a quick recap.
Before Christmas, after months of tortuous negotiations, Theresa May struck a deal with EU leaders that set out the terms of Britain’s divorce. Next, she needed this deal to be approved by Parliament.
Here there was a problem: many MPs hated her deal — so many, in fact, that she was forced to cancel a crunch vote in December. This enraged some further, and rebel Tories tried to oust her from office (she survived).
Now it is a new year. The prime minister is back, and the vote is on.
Yesterday, Theresa May declared that it will “definitely” go ahead. The 15th or 16th of January seems to be the most likely date. She has until then to convince MPs and the public to support it.
“Don’t let the search for the perfect become the enemy of the good,” she told the BBC, “because the danger there is that we end up with no Brexit”. Writing in the Mail on Sunday she also claimed that attempts to derail her plans are putting democracy at risk.
May’s position rests on two claims. One: that stopping Brexit would betray the millions that voted for it. Two: that her deal is the best that can be negotiated.
However, she faces fierce opposition.
Labour MPs will certainly vote against it. And if May is defeated, Jeremy Corbyn hopes to win power in a general election.
Meanwhile, hard Brexiteers argue that Britain should leave without a deal. “There was no question that I remember on the referendum about a deal or not. It was leave or remain,” claims MP Peter Bone — one of dozens of MPs who believe May’s plan keeps Britain too closely tied to the EU.
Then there those who want a second referendum. A recent poll found that 53% of Britons want the final say on Brexit, rather than leave it to MPs.
What happens if May is defeated? Nobody knows. “We are going to be in uncharted territory,” she admitted yesterday.
On one point, everyone is now agreed. Britain is the midst of a very messy political crisis. And taking a position on it requires thinking about some profoundly difficult questions. For example: how much independence should a wealthy modern trading nation seek? If more freedom to decide our laws and control our borders will make us poorer, is that an exchange worth making?
And what about the process? Would it be morally defensible to have a second referendum? Is that like making athletes run another race because you didn’t like the winner of the first one? Or is it more a case of admitting that the first race wasn’t fair in the first place?
- Is Brexit a good idea?
- Should there be a second referendum?
- What do you think of politicians? In one minute, write down as many words as you can that you associate with them. Share your ideas with the class. Are most of your words positive or negative? Do you think politicians deserve a negative reputation?
- Read the piece in The Week by following the link in Become An Expert. It lays out the main pros and cons of Brexit. Take notes on any sentences you find particularly interesting. Overall, are you for or against Brexit?
Some People Say...
“Brexit means Brexit.”Theresa May
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Theresa May has confirmed that the Commons vote on her Brexit deal will go ahead next week. She faces an uphill battle, with many Conservative MPs expected to vote against the deal. Analysis by Sky News from December estimated that she would lose by around 170 votes.
- What do we not know?
- If May will be able to win enough support between now and the vote. She hopes that additional assurances from the EU may discourage some MPs from voting against her. Furthermore, we do not know what would happen if she loses. If the margin of defeat is particularly large, many expect Jeremy Corbyn to table a no confidence motion, which could spark a general election.
- The deal includes a transition period between March 2019 and December 2020, when the UK will still need to follow EU regulations. It also includes a backup plan (known as a “backstop”) for what will happen if the transition period ends without a trade deal. In that scenario, Britain would remain closely tied to EU rules.
- MPs triggered a “vote of no confidence” against the prime minister, for which all Conservative MPs were entitled to vote. May won the vote by 200 to 117.
- According to a YouGov poll, only 22% of Britons support May’s deal.
- Theresa May is also seeking further assurances from the EU that Britain would not be trapped within the Northern Ireland backstop arrangement.
- Closely tied
- The strongest objection is to the Northern Ireland backstop arrangement, which would keep Britain tied to some EU rules should the two parties fail to negotiate a new trade deal.
- Removing those who were undecided, the split was 53% in support of another referendum, with 47% against.