Brexit recap: Fresh hell week for Theresa May

It was the week that Theresa May lost control of the Brexit process, lost her authority over her Cabinet and almost lost her voice.

Theresa May addresses the Commons. Credit: HOC/Jessica Taylor
Theresa May addresses the Commons. Credit: HOC/Jessica Taylor

There were more chaotic scenes and knife-edge votes as the Prime Minister once again appealed to MPs to back her Withdrawal agreement and was once again rebuffed, with the House rejecting the deal for a second time on Tuesday.

The one concession Number Ten could take was that the thumping defeat had at least been reduced from a 230-vote to 149-vote loss, giving Mrs May’s top team a glimmer of hope that maybe one more push might get them over the line.

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And while the Prime Minister’s deal looked in bad shape, so did she as months of sleepless nights and endless phone calls took their toll, giving her a croaky voice that was almost inaudible in the House and added to the air of disintegration that has descended on her premiership.

Following the failure, more votes were held in attempt to get MPs to rule out or back other options, which saw a no-deal Brexit decisively rejected and an extension of Article 50 agreed to on Thursday.

It also saw Cabinet ministers defying their party leadership in an unprecedented way - with a handful breaking ranks on Wednesday to abstain on a no deal motion, having been ordered to vote against it.

A day later a motion - in Theresa May’s name - setting out the terms of a Brexit extension led to the Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay voting against the Prime Minister, and indeed the Government’s Brexit strategy.

Amid the chaos, each political faction blamed the other for the deadlock, with Tory loyalists lashing out at the Eurosceptics and both party leaders demanding more cooperation from the other.

Reflecting on the week, newly-appointed Environment Minister and Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill told The Yorkshire Post it was time politicians “get on with it”.

He said: “I think it’s disappointing that we didn’t get the meaningful vote through on the second time of asking. There’s a lot of concern out in the business community - particularly in the agricultural community - about the effects of a no-deal Brexit. And I think maybe some of our colleagues who live in the Westminster bubble need to talk to people who have actually got skin in the game…

“People have said it to me locally - just get on with it. It doesn’t matter whether you are a remainer or a leaver.

“The ERG people [Conservative Eurosceptics] need to think very carefully, because if they continue their opposition to the deal we could end up in a situation where we actually remain in the European Union. And that seems to be Labour’s policy.”

But with less than a fortnight to go Labour’s policy is still unclear and the party now seems to be as divided as the Conservatives over Europe.

Having said since its party conference last year that a second referendum should be kept as a table, the leadership failed to throw its weight behind the idea when it was finally put to a vote this week, instead whipping its MPs to abstain.

A total of 41 of rebelled, with 24 supporting a referendum and 17 voting to oppose one.

One of the rebels was Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock, who resigned from the front bench to reject the People’s Vote motion.

She told The Yorkshire Post: “I just felt I couldn’t abstain on that and I needed to make my position really clear…

“I think we had a People’s Vote in 2016. I think people had their say for lots of different reasons, not just economic actually, but for lots of different reasons they opted to leave.

“Here in Barnsley 70 per cent voted to leave. They have had their say and they want us to get on with the result. What do you do - best of three? Where does it stop?”

Despite her conviction that parliament must deliver on the 2016 vote, the Labour MP did not back Mrs May’s deal and believes that only a “soft” Labour Brexit can win the support of the House.

But whether she wants it or not, her and her parliamentary colleagues will get a third chance to vote on Mrs May’s deal next week, as the Government prepares to bring it back to the Commons for another go.

The result could bring months of Brexit chaos to an orderly end, while another defeat could plunge Westminster into further disarray.