What happened yesterday?
Theresa May made the biggest gamble of her political career – in a desperate bid to get her Brexit deal through. First she asked the EU for a short extension of Article 50 from March 29 – next Friday – to June 30. In a letter to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, she said her deal – with some slight changes – would come back to the House of Commons next week for another vote. If it passes, she said, Parliament would need more time to pass necessary Brexit laws and ratify the deal.
What else did The Prime Minister say?
Her second intervention came at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons. Three times, she repeated: ‘As Prime Minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30 June’. This was seen as a clear signal that if the deal does not pass at the third time of asking, she would either allow a No Deal Brexit – which will happen automatically – or quit rather than go cap in hand to the EU to ask for a longer delay. In a tirade at MPs, she said the House had ‘indulged itself for far too long’ and a longer delay would mean ‘endless hours and days of this House carrying on contemplating its navel on Europe’.
Theresa May heads to Brussels tomorrow afternoon for a crunch summit on the fate of Brexit – and almost nothing is certain
What did the EU say?
Upping the stakes significantly, Mr Tusk said the EU would agree to a short extension, but only on the condition that the deal is passed by the Commons next week. He said Europe was suffering from Brexit ‘fatigue’ but prepared to help. Crucially, he left open the possibility that EU countries could refuse a longer delay if the deal does not pass. President Macron is also, reportedly, taking a hard line against a longer extension.
What do hardline Brexiteers say?
Many were initially furious with Mrs May for trying to delay Brexit at all, arguing she should have walked away long ago and be pushing ahead with No Deal. One said the request for an extension was a ‘betrayal’ and several others called for the PM to resign. If anything they appear less likely to vote for the deal, in the hope they can force through No Deal either next week or at a later point.
What about the Tory Remainers?
With No Deal now appearing to be more likely, they are up in arms. Dominic Grieve who is campaigning for a second referendum, was incandescent and said he was ‘ashamed’ to be a member of the Conservative Party. He and other Tory Remainers believed they had forced Mrs May to take a No Deal Brexit off the table, and claim she agreed to ask for a long delay. But yesterday, with just eight days to go until we leave, she turned the tables on them. In the coming days, they will doubtless try once again to ‘seize control’ of Parliament and force her to change course.
Dominic Grieve (pictured above) has been campaigning for a second referendum
What will Corbyn and Labour MPS do?
No10’s calculation appears to be that the deal will not get through solely with the backing of Tory MPs, even if the DUP can be won over with various legal promises about Northern Ireland and the backstop. So instead they are putting the squeeze on Labour MPs and forcing them to choose between Mrs May’s deal and the prospect of either No Deal or a long extension to Article 50. Will Jeremy Corbyn fear being blamed for Brexit not happening and allow his MPs to abstain? Or will Mrs May win over the 30 or so Labour MPs in Leave seats she needs to win the day?
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured above) is having to force to chose between Mrs May’s deal of a No Deal
What happens over the next few days?
Mrs May travels to Brussels today with the howls of anger from Westminster ringing in her ears. And the stage is set for an almighty showdown next week, with rumours the vote could come before MPs as early as Monday. Will the Speaker let the vote take place or will he plunge the country into a constitutional crisis by refusing to allow it? If it passes, will she be able to cling on in No10 and for how long?
What If her deal is rejected again?
Chaos. The kind of chaos that makes the mayhem of recent days and weeks look like a walk in the park. Will the EU offer an emergency summit and a longer delay to Brexit? Unwilling to countenance a long delay or a No Deal exit, will Mrs May quit and let someone else pick up the pieces? If that happens, would Mrs May’s successor really agree to a long delay that a majority of the Tory Party are opposed to? If Britain faces No Deal, will the Commons attempt to force what many see as the nuclear option and vote to revoke Article 50 and stop the process of Brexit altogether? Could the Commons, with the help of Speaker John Bercow, find another way to take control in such a short time? With the clock running down, this really is High Noon for Brexit.