With just ten days until March 29, 2019 – the date which could yet still be Britain’s final 24 hours inside the European Union, MPs have painted themselves into an extremely difficult corner.
The results of votes in the House of Commons last week established that Parliament does not currently want to support either the Prime Minister’s deal, a no-deal Brexit or a second referendum. But they have backed asking the remaining 27 members of the European Union – all with their own individual vetos and therefore leverage to make demands – to approve an extension to the Article 50 process.
Parliamentarians will undoubtedly argue that for each of last week’s different votes, they took decisions from principle and after much deliberation about what they believed to be best for the country. However, the net result of those collective decisions has undoubtedly been to hand the EU yet more negotiating power and leave the UK with even less room for manoeuvre.
Yesterday morning, Downing Street intimated that should a ‘Meaningful Vote’ by held this week and passed at the third attempt, a delay to Brexit should only be for a matter of months – but without it, a longer delay potentially running into years and involving participating in European Parliament elections this summer will be requested. But Speaker John Bercow’s unexpected ruling that he is unlikely to allow a third vote to take place unless the deal has substantially changed adds a further major layer of complication.
In the circumstances, it is perhaps no surprise that previously hostile Leave-backing MPs had started coming around to Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement, fearing that failing to back it could result in Brexit not happening in any form rather than the imperfect version they perceive her offer to be. But with the political faultlines shifting, their change of heart may be too late for her deal.