A fortnight ago the Prime Minister came to the Commons and kicked the ‘Brexit can’ down the road again; as she had a fortnight earlier, as she had in January and as she had in December when she pulled the first scheduled vote. Now she really is running out of road.
There are just 18 days left until we are due to leave the European Union and little has changed during the two extra weeks that she secured, as it hadn’t in the preceding six weeks following her first defeat in January. There have had much-publicised meetings the EU27, but the Government offered nothing new.
So this morning the Government have admitted talks are deadlocked. It’s not surprising they have got nowhere, as she was trying to amend a deal that she had herself previously described as unamendable. She hasn’t even secured the superficial changes that might have given the Brexit extremists of the European Research Group an opportunity to climb down and grudgingly back her.
She seems to be holding to her original strategy of facing down all her opponents with the option of her deal or no deal (with the variation of the threat of ‘no Brexit’ for the ERG). This has been her approach from day one; denying Parliament the opportunity to properly consider all the options.
Labour has been clear throughout that we would not accept a ‘Hobson’s Choice’ of these two differently damaging options; one hitting jobs and the economy by 4% and the other by 10%. But she has pressed on regardless.
It didn’t have to be like this. When I responded to the debate that she had opened in December, I urged her to reach out to the majority in the Commons (read my speech here) for a sensible deal covering the customs union, single market, and participation in the agencies and partnerships we’ve built together, echoing Jeremy Corbyn’s speech last year; proposals developed in his letter to the Prime Minister on 6 February.
We proposed this approach in the Commons a fortnight ago, but the Government whipped their MPs to defeat our compromise. Instead she has continued to focus on changes to the Northern Ireland backstop, ignoring the fact that it was not the primary concern of most of the 432 MPs who rejected her deal. Our opposition is to the damage her deal would do to jobs and the economy.
On Tuesday the Commons will be voting on her deal, with any amendments on the backstop, for a third time and Labour will vote against it again. If it fails, the Government will then table a motion giving the Commons an opportunity to reject no deal on Wednesday.
Despite the disastrous consequences of no deal, the Government won’t say what view they will take on this key vote; the Brexit Secretary refused to answer twice when I pressed him recently in an exchange that led even the ‘Daily Telegraph’ to describe him as dodging questions “almost as shamelessly” as the Prime Minister.
There is a clear majority in the Commons against leaving without a deal, so the next step on Thursday will be to vote on extending Article 50; something I spoke on for Labour’s front bench recently. Extending Article 50 is not without problems, and needs the consent of all 27 other EU members, but Theresa May’s disastrous handling of the negotiations leaves little choice.
This week is not likely to see a serious proposal for a further referendum, as we will be focussing on the immediate decisions on the Prime Minister’s deal. We will continue to seek sensible compromise, but at the appropriate time we will put forward or support an amendment in favour of a public vote in order to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit or a no deal outcome, in line with our conference policy.