Theresa May’s Plan B will not look significantly different from her Plan A, as
Immediately after suffering a crushing defeat in the House of Commons for her Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, British Prime Minister Theresa May spent a considerable amount of her time in cross-party talks that failed to yield considerable policy concessions.
The one significant piece of news to come out of the talks was that a parliamentary debate on her new proposal will not take place before January 29 as had been expected.
Despite pressure from the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, May will not promise to take off the table the option of leaving the EU without. Her office also confirmed that she will not ask European leaders to delay Britain’s official departure beyond the March date, as demanded by the Scottish National Party and Green Party.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair noted that a request for delaying the March 29 date is “inevitable,” but although May has hinted at the possibility, it is not clear when this application will be forthcoming. May is not committing, nor commenting on the matter despite a number of EU members that include Germany, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands, as well as the European Commission, have all indicated that they are willing to show a certain amount of flexibility on the issue of the withdrawal date.
May and her government have been steadfast in taking a hardline position that the UK is leaving the EU on March 29.
Corbyn has largely scoffed at May’s cross-party talks, dismissing them as a political stunt while at the same time threatening to resubmit motions of no-confidence to try to topple the Tory government after he publicly excoriated May by saying, “Stop wasting billions of our money preparing for a no-deal Brexit.”
But while the leader of the opposition will not talk to the prime minister, a number of Labour backbenchers will. However, the number of Labour parliamentary MPs considered uncompromising in their Brexit stance is not enough to give May a working majority in the House of Commons.
Nonetheless, May will not move from positions that would undermine the stability of her government. May’s reliance on the parliamentary support of the Democratic Unionist Party, the hardline Protestant party from Northern Ireland and one of the staunchest proponents of Brexit, means the prime minister needs to provide further assurances on the issue of the Irish border.
The leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, has made clear that only legally binding assurance that would appease the Unionists is a legally binding end date for the backstop regardind the status of Northern Ireland.
House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom has made clear that a considerable part of the Conservative parliamentary group would withdraw its confidence if the prime minister deviates from her uncompromising position on Customs Union membership. Without any significant movement, however, on that front, May is unlikely to gain any additional support from any other party.
For the moment, it appears that May has resorted to maintaining her default strategy of running down the clock until the prospect of a hard Brexit force a critical mass of MPs to change their minds.
May is also not excluding the possibility of calling for a second referendum if the parliamentary debates reach a dead end on January 29, a mere two months before the deadline. It remains unclear, however, if a second referendum is technically possible. By law, a new vote would need at least 10 weeks to campaign, not to mention the consent of the remaining 27 European Union members.
If a second referendum can be organised, the current parameters regarding its legality and organisation would have it taking place after the May European elections, in which the UK will not participate.
Britain’s former attorney general Dominic Grieve, a pro-European conservative, said in the days after the Commons vote to strike down May’s Brexit plan that a second referendum is perfectly possible if there is a limited extension of the withdrawal procedure known as Article 50.