More than two years on from her promise of a sovereign Brexit at Lancaster House in January 2017 Theresa May has gone full circle. Her abysmal Withdrawal Deal threatens to take Britain out of the European Union in name only. The House of Commons has pushed back the exit date and is agitating for even closer alignment with the EU. Brexit might not happen at all.
The prime minister is no longer in control, following MPs’ sustained efforts to rule out the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal, together with successive defeats of her Withdrawal Agreement. Faced with a parliamentary party divided over British independence and propped up by the patriotic DUP in Northern Ireland, Mrs May – who voted Remain – has been struggling to exert any kind of authority since the disastrous 2017 election, which reaffirmed the public’s commitment to leaving the EU. 82% of MPs were elected on pro-Brexit manifestos.
If anyone is in control of the nation’s destiny, it is the EU27, who have already granted the British government a two-week delay to the original exit date, March 29. Since then, May has failed, yet again, to get a majority behind the same deal, prompting her to reach out to Jeremy Corbyn, who contrary to May is a lifelong Eurosceptic representing a predominately pro-EU party. More significantly however, the Labour leader despises the Conservatives and wants Brexit to bring about their destruction.
But Corbyn has problems of his own. He is being bullied into adopting a second referendum as part of Labour’s Brexit position. He is known to recognise another vote will enrage the Labour heartlands and is angling for a repackaged version of the current deal, namely permanent membership of the Customs Union and dubious EU protections for workers’ rights. But like May, he is notoriously weak.
The prime minister could be extremely accommodating to Corbyn’s demands, more so than she has been with Brussels (and that is saying something), such is her determination to get withdrawal signed off. Nevertheless, there’s a strong possibility he will give in to another referendum.
The EU has made a long extension conditional on Britain indicating “a new way forward”, in other words, remaining tightly and permanently shackled to the failing project, or a repeat of the 2016 referendum.
Meanwhile, a valiant caucus of pro-Brexit MPs, spearheaded by the DUP has consistently fought against all efforts to delay and sabotage Brexit, keeping hopes of independence alive. A debilitating extension is likely, but all is not lost.
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