On Wednesday, Theresa May returned to the House of Commons buoyant but more boxed in than ever. The evening before, during a series of parliamentary votes aimed at moving the paralyzed Brexit process forward, the prime minister narrowly won a mandate to reopen negotiations with the European Union over the so-called Irish backstop—the Achilles’ heel of her battered Withdrawal deal. It was a victory, but only because Brexit has utterly recalibrated the margins of political triumph.
Minutes after the Commons result, E.U. leaders reiterated their complete unwillingness to change the terms of the divorce. “The Withdrawal Agreement is, and remains, the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union,” said a spokesman for European Council president Donald Tusk. “The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation.”
May’s sudden aversion to the backstop is one of a series of veering U-turns to which Britons have become wearily accustomed. For the better part of two years, she claimed that a no-deal Brexit would be better than a bad deal. Then, after cobbling together a deal that virtually everyone agreed was bad, the prime minister insisted it was the only option. Even when lawmakers rebelled, business leaders started anxiously stockpiling resources, and public opinion soured, May was steadfast in her refusal to alter her Brexit deal beyond cosmetic modifications. But May, who originally campaigned to remain in the E.U., is nothing if not practical. And so on Tuesday, she changed tack again. Calculating that she needs to secure the backing of those who ardently oppose the backstop (primarily hardline Tory Brexiteers and the D.U.P. in Northern Ireland) before the next meaningful vote, she announced her intention to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and re-write the backstop.
Short term, May’s decision to smash the foundations of her own deal was ludicrous but effective. Hostile M.P.s clubbed together and, displaying a rare dose of unity, gave May a domestic mandate to alter the backstop, and thus possibly pass a deal. But unless the E.U. budges enough to appease Brexiteers, this progress holds symbolic rather than substantial meaning. Once again, the prime minister is on a collision course with grim political reality. For the U.K., there are no guarantees except repeated assurances from Brussels that May’s negotiations will fail.
May, as ever, is undiminished. She has reportedly added several Brexit bigwigs to her negotiating team, including Crawford Falconer, the chief trade-negotiation adviser at the Department for International Trade. Downing Street has also sketched out three options to “change” the backstop: a time limit, an exit clause, or switching it for a trade deal. There is, of course, a catch. None of this triumvirate look set to fly in Europe. Instead, as The Times of London’s Bruno Waterfield reports, their idea of change could well be to attach a legally binding document to the Withdrawal Agreement stating the backstop is a temporary measure. It’s not clear whether Jean-Claude Juncker and Co. would countenance such an amendment. Even if they did bend, it’s even less clear whether that would constitute significant, satisfactory change for Brexiteers.
As Politico’s Jack Blanchard points out, the next two weeks will likely be dominated by a circular, semantic battle on what “change” actually means. After that, May returns to Parliament for the next round of crunch votes, lovingly scheduled for Valentine’s Day. The outcome will show whether the promised “changes” she brings back from Brussels can win over her detractors and carve a feasible plan for Britain to exit the E.U. If not, May’s two weeks of hustling will mark just another chapter in Britain’s choose-your-own-adventure Brexit fantasy. The only difference, this time, is that whole sordid psychodrama is rapidly approaching an end.
PLEASE USE THE VERTICAL SHARE BUTTONS BELOW THE ARTICLE TO SHARE THIS POST IN OTHER TO EARN POINTS!
[mycred_share_this amount=10 href=”facebook” target=”_blank”][/mycred_share_this][mycred_share_this amount=10 href=”twitter” target=”_blank”][/mycred_share_this][mycred_share_this amount=10 href=”pinterest” target=”_blank”][/mycred_share_this][mycred_share_this amount=10 href=”email” target=”_blank”][/mycred_share_this][mycred_share_this amount=10 href=”whatsapp” target=”_blank”][/mycred_share_this]