Days after Theresa May threatened to call a vote on her doomed Brexit plan before Christmas in a bid to exert more leverage over unyielding European leaders, who on Friday snubbed the prime minister over her desperate pleas that the Brexit withdrawal agreement be changed to incorporate “legally binding assurances” that the Irish backstop being triggered wouldn’t result in the UK being trapped in the EU customs union, May is apparently moving ahead with her plans to call a vote on the deal, which she revealed on Monday would be set for Jan. 14.
The prime minister had called off a planned vote on her deal last week, pushing rebellious Brexiters to force a no confidence vote among the Tories, as her cabinet warned that the deal was virtually guaranteed to be voted down. Since then, little has changed in terms of the vote count.
After her cabinet ministers spent the weekend pushing back against reports that they were already laying the groundwork for a second referendum, or at least a series of informal “indicative” votes about alternatives to May’s deal, May has returned to her position that it’s either her deal, or no deal. She also reiterated that EU leaders do not want to use the backstop – implying that Parliament should set aside its concerns about take the Europeans at their word.
Following reports that Labour would call for a vote of no confidence in May’s government if she didn’t immediately call for a vote on her Brexit deal – reports that Labour later walked back, saying they would hold off so long as May set a date for a vote – May warned MPs that they shouldn’t help Corbyn trigger another general election, which she said would not be “in the national interest” since it would only create more chaos. She also decried Corbyn’s claims that Parliament could win a better deal by voting down May’s plan as a “fiction”.
May added that it wouldn’t be right to extend the Article 50 deadline. And though May has said she wouldn’t support another referendum, polls have shown that UK voters would likely opt to remain if they were given another shot at the vote.
In other words, May is right back where she started this month, meaning virtually no progress has been made toward achieving a deal over the past three weeks. Or, as Corbyn put it in his response to May’s remarks, the prime minister has reverted to her plan of running down the clock to Brexit Day, hoping to leave MPs with a stark choice between her deal and no deal. He also accused May of leading a “shambolic” negotiating process that has done little but waste time, something that, we imagine, a growing number of MPs would agree with.
And while May said she expects talks with the EU will continue into the new year, it’s not entirely clear what she expects to discuss. More importantly, May confirmed that her government is “stepping up” preparations for a no deal exit. The BoE and No. 10 published projections in late November for what a ‘no deal’ scenario would look like in terms of its long-term impact on economic growth (projections, which we have dubbed “Project Fear”). As the chart reflects, a no-deal exit could lower GDP by 10% over 5 years relative to the pre-Brexit trend.