Theresa May speaking in Grimsby. Photo: Flickr/Number 10 Theresa May speaking in Grimsby. Photo: Flickr/Number 10

Theresa May’s second catastrophic defeat in Parliament is a masterclass in Tory failure. The only way out is a general election, argues Shabbir Lakha

Theresa May’s Brexit deal has once again been resoundingly defeated in Parliament. Nothing has changed.

With a raspy voice reminiscent of her famously catastrophic 2017 conference speech, Theresa May brought back her “new” Brexit deal to Parliament on Tuesday for the second meaningful vote after the historic defeat in January. Since the crushing 230 vote defeat, Theresa May went back to the EU to apparently renegotiate the deal, in an attempt to win over some of the 118 members of her own party and the DUP that are propping her up. It was clear when the clarification on the backstop and statement on the political declaration were published on Monday, that nothing of substance had actually changed and it was likely the deal would be defeated.

This is the government’s flagship policy, which it has spent almost 3 years on while doing little else, and which has twice been overwhelmingly defeated. By any standard, and any historical parallel, Theresa May should have resigned in January, but even more certainly now.

Her strategy has been to push the vote on her deal as far down the line as possible so that she could dangle the threat of a no-deal Brexit and pressure her MPs to back her. She only managed to bribe her way to getting an extra 39 votes in favour of her deal, way short of what she needed. The European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said in unambiguous terms that the EU is not willing to budge any further.

So what happens now?

MPs will get the opportunity on Wednesday to vote on the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, and if that is defeated – which it most likely will be, then on Thursday, they will vote on extending Article 50. An extension looks all but inevitable now, but for how long is uncertain. More importantly, an extension does nothing to solve the monumental crisis the government is in.

As Theresa May said after the vote, ‘voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension, does not solve the problem.’

So it’s back to the drawing board. Jeremy Corbyn was right to say that the government has to accept that “their deal is clearly dead and does not have the support of the house”. It seems impossible that Theresa May could bring back her deal for a third time, with another tokenistic renegotiation, and win a majority in Parliament.

It also seems apparent from the extra votes she got for her deal this time compared to the first time, and the mutterings of it being better but still unacceptable from hardline Brexiteers, that it remains unlikely there will be a majority for a second referendum, even with Labour support. This could change in the coming days and weeks. But as Corbyn said in concluding his statement:

“Maybe it’s time we had a general election and the people could choose who their government should be.”

The country has been kept in limbo for two years. Politics has been dominated by Brexit since the 2017 general election. Labour has been sucked into the Brexit vortex and has been unable to put its radical vision to the country. And in the meanwhile, millions of people continue to be affected by a discredited and massively damaging austerity regime.

Nothing but a general election can change this. Either extending Article 50 or holding another referendum only gives the Tories more time to govern without governing. The Tories are facing an existential crisis – but that can only be exploited through a general election. A general election would give Labour the possibility of winning a majority to put forward its vision for Brexit, but also to immediately put an end to austerity.

It’s a disgrace, but unsurprising, that at this time when there is the best-ever possibility of getting rid of this failing Tory government, Tom Watson and his Blairite cabal are intent on wrecking Corbyn’s leadership. The left inside and outside the Labour Party must unite to defend Corbyn and push for a general election now.

Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.