Brexit Brief: Two Weeks’ Notice

After a series of votes last night, Prime Minister Theresa May secured two more weeks to gain concessions on her Brexit deal. The price: giving parliament the opportunity to force a delay to Brexit if her deal fails again.

Two more weeks to solve Brexit – or else we’ll ask for more time to solve Brexit

Once again, the prime minister bought herself some time after delaying a vote on her Brexit deal to 12 March, only 17 days before the UK is due to leave the EU. The price: allowing parliament to seek an extension of article 50 – delaying Brexit – if MPs vote against a no-deal scenario. Having resisted cabinet pressure for months to allow such a vote, on Wednesday, the prime minister caved but warned an extension must be “short”.

Backstop won’t stop

In an attempt to retain control of the Brexit timeline, Theresa May must now go back to Brussels, again, to seek concessions on the Northern Irish backstop, again. In faintly encouraging signs for No. 10, pro-hard-Brexit rebels have now split themselves over how these concessions could be presented. Just days ago, many said they would refuse to back the deal unless the Irish border provisions were rewritten, though some now say they could accept appendices to the document. However, at this stage, there are still too many rebels for the deal to pass.

France warns extension must be useful

French President Emmanuel Macron reacted to speculation that London may request more time by warning he would veto the request unless it offered a genuine route out of the impasse. All 27 remaining member states must agree to extend the deadline under article 50. Many EU leaders have reservations about granting an extension to prolong negotiations over the Northern Irish backstop but most see it as necessary. Speaking on Monday, European Council President Donald Tusk (who has no vote on this) said an extension would be “advisable”.

Brexit breaking point for two main parties

In dramatic scenes last week (that made no change to parliamentary arithmetic), three of the governing Conservatives and eight opposition Labour MPs left their parties to form the new ‘Independent Group’. All 11 MPs were champions of a second referendum, although the Labour leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations in the party also proved a tipping point for some. Though no MPs had changed their views on Brexit – all 11 defectors being advocates of a new referendum – it did have the effect of forcing both major parties to change their positionings, and perhaps drove Labour’s backing of a second referendum.

Second referendum?

After a string of defections from his party, driven in part by his handling of Brexit, main opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has committed to supporting a second referendum on 12 March as a last resort option. If, or more likely when, his alternatives — a customs union or a general election — fail, Labour will table an amendment calling for a vote. While this option is supported by a few Conservative backbenchers and most other parties in Westminster, a majority of MPs recoil from the prospect. However, with no sign of a break in the impasse, MPs may yet conclude they have no other choice.

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