This was perhaps the most dramatic day yet in the Brexit saga. A series of indicative votes revealed that there is no majority for any of the alternative Brexit proposals put to the House. And hours prior Theresa May offered her resignation in exchange for support of her Withdrawal Agreement.
While advocates of the Commons taking control pointed out that they had never claimed that the first round of indicative votes would produce a winner, they still risk public ridicule. After all the hype about parliament taking over, nothing came close to winning majority support.
The vote for a no deal Brexit was rejected 160-400 votes, Common Market by 188-283, Norway+ by 65-377, a Customs Union by 264-272, Labour’s proposal by 237-307, Revoking Article 50 by 184-293, and a second referendum by 268-295.
In short: May’s deal has failed twice, and now there is no majority for anything else. What happens now?
Theresa May told the 1922 Committee this evening that she would not lead the next phase of Brexit negotiations. Read: back my deal and I’ll go.
She told Conservative MPs that she was “prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to secure a smooth and orderly Brexit.” She has yet to make clear the timetable for her departure if her deal passes, but is expected to attend the G20 summit in Japan at the end of June, for us to then see a new Tory leader at the beginning of July.
Sign up for our FREE Reaction Weekend Email
Read the week's best-read articles on politics, business and geopolitics
Receive offers and exclusive invites
Plus uplifting cultural commentary
Boris Johnson, who had previously described May’s deal as a “licence for the EU to bully and blackmail us” was swayed by May announcing her resignation, offering his public support the deal.
Senior Brexiteer and head of the eurosceptic European Research Group Jacob Rees-Mogg also surprised colleagues earlier, with his announcement that he would now back May’s deal. Having repeatedly rallied against it Rees-Mogg now says that he will swallow the compromise deal rather than risk losing Brexit in its entirety. Initially, Rees-Mogg said his support for the deal would be contingent on the DUP’s, but it seems he has now firmly nailed his colours to the mast. A decision which he may come to regret, based on the DUP’s announcement late this evening.
The DUP, who had been curiously silent all day, released a statement around 9pm restating their hostility to May’s deal. The statement said the DUP cannot support any Brexit deal that threatens the integrity of the union, and as such its MPs will be opposing it for a third time. This throws an almighty spanner in the works for Theresa May’s strategy this evening. There was perhaps a vague hope that by offering her resignation some of the ERG would come onside (they did), and the DUP at the very worst might agree to abstain on the deal. However, with the DUP restating their opposition, those members of the ERG who came out to change their minds publicly may have done so in vain, and May’s deal again looks set to fail.
May offers resignation, support from the ERG floods in, dominoes fall into place and deal gets through – so the now scuppered theory went.
Unfortunately for the ERG switchers, their calculation should have gone the other way round: DUP first, and the ERG follow. Now, Rees-Mogg et al may have egg on their face.
All hope is not lost for May – it’s expected that she will bring her deal back to the House on Friday (with the caveat that Speaker John Bercow must allow it).
This gives her about 24 hours to get some kind of assurances that might sway the DUP into abstaining, hopefully giving her the numbers to just squeak the deal over the line. But, the EU have made clear day in day out that the Withdrawal Agreement is simply not up for renegotiation – so this scenario remains highly unlikely.
And in case you had forgotten, Labour is also involved. With their Brexit plan (Customs Union-ish) defeated in the indicative votes this evening, it is unclear where they will go next. With the DUP maintaining hostility to the deal, the deal’s fate could very well lie in the hands of Labour rebels.
Obviously the Prime Minister might not have enticed Labour round to her deal, considering passing it would set up a leadership context which could see a Brexiteer like Boris Johnson in Number 10. But then again, Labour consistently stress their primary concern to be avoiding a no deal exit – which is precisely what May’s deal does. In the absence of a majority for anything else, that could sway a few potential Labour rebels into backing the deal.
This would be an easier knot to untangle were any clarity provided by the Labour leadership itself.
In summary – May’s deal has failed twice and looks set to fail again. There is no majority for anything else in the Commons. But, something has to happen. All that remains unclear for now is what, and how.