Brexit could possibly be delayed as EU27 leaders will be discussing the latest developments following the UK’s departure from the EU at their regular European council meeting on Thursday.
As negotiations are ongoing, ministers have said that there will be no vote this week for May’s deal before the Brussels’ meeting, unless May believes she can win. The government plans to request a delay of less than three months to get the statute book ready. However, the government believes EU leaders are likely to want a longer delay, in case parliament rejects her deal.
Speaking on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Chancellor Philip Hammond said, that unless Theresa May’s Brexit deal has the support of the DUP and Tory MPs, it would not return to the Commons this week. He said: “We will only bring the deal back if we are confident that enough of our colleagues, and the DUP, are prepared to support it, so that we can get it through parliament. We’re not going to keep presenting it if we haven’t moved the dial.”
He clarified that it is not possible to leave the EU on 29 March, as there is a large volume of legislation that still needs to pass. Ministers have promised to begin a process of indicative votes next week if there is no progress.
Need to support May’s deal
The Brexit deal was rejected by 149 votes last week, so May needs to get the support of 75 MPs.
In an article written by her on Saturday’s Telegraph, May urged MPs to vote for her deal. As she titled her piece, “The patriotic thing for MPs to do is vote for my Brexit deal,” because as she wrote, “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”
May acknowledged that a “short technical extension” will be needed beyond the 29th of March, but that was “not an ideal outcome – we could and should have been leaving the EU on March 29,” she said. “But it is something the British people would accept if it led swiftly to delivering Brexit. The alternative if parliament cannot agree the deal by that time is much worse,” May added.
Former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, who resigned in protest against May’s Brexit deal, has changed her mind and said that she will be backing the deal in this week’s vote.
Talking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, McVey said: “The rules have all changed. We all stood on a manifesto that no deal is better than a bad deal, and I still believe that Theresa May’s deal is a bad deal – but after the votes in the house last week, that isn’t the option facing us any more. No deal has been removed; article 50 will be extended; so the choice before us is: this deal or no Brexit whatsoever – and to not have Brexit you go against the democratic vote of the people.”
May could resign?
McVey has implied that May’s position remained in question, as many Brexiteers still may want her to leave in return of their vote this week. She said that May “will have to decide what she is going to do.” “She and the team walked through the [voting] lobby extending that date, so she’s made life very difficult for herself. That’s what now she’s got to look at – has she got discipline in the government?”
Despite Brexit-backing MPs wanting May to step down in exchange for support for her deal, May “has not discussed resignation,” according to a Downing Street source. For example, many Tories would like to take over the Conservative party’s leadership, including former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who disagrees with May and opposes her deal.
A long Brexit delay is bad for everyone
In a Financial Times article, Wolfhgang Münchau, argued that a long Brexit extension won’t be beneficial for the EU. For one, the EU could be potentially accused of “undue interference,” if it demanded another referendum in exchange for a long extension. This, could possibly trigger a no-deal Brexit on March 29. Another possible outcome, might be the UK holding European elections in May, with Brexit becoming the central theme across Europe, including for populist parties. This, the FT article points out, will aggravate the gap between Eurosceptic populists and Europe, and worsen the EU’s image as an undemocratic elite. Most importantly, the writer argues that a lengthy postponement of Brexit will mean it will distract the EU from its other crucial issues and use up its resources.
In the end, May’s deal might potentially be a way out of the impasse. For now, May’s Brexit hopes are on the last-minute talks with the DUP. The PM is expected to table a third Commons vote on her Brexit deal on Tuesday or Wednesday.