As Theresa May's disastrous reign draws to a close, Shabbir Lakha assesses the political landscape
Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was once again rejected by Parliament on Friday, this time with 344 votes against and 286 for. It’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s not that she has a bad strategy, she just doesn’t have a strategy.
The vote was not a “meaningful vote” because MPs voted only on her Withdrawal Agreement which covers the immediate terms of Britain’s exit and the transition period, and not the Political Declaration which sets out plans for a future relationship with the EU. It could almost make sense that she hoped Labour MPs might vote for just the Withdrawal Agreement, but given that it would mean Labour would enable Theresa May to implement Brexit and without knowing what the future relationship would look like, if that’s what she was banking on then it was a terrible bet.
And the same goes for her own MPs and allies in the DUP. On Wednesday, Jacob Rees-Mogg indicated that if the DUP agreed to abstain on the deal, it would be sufficient for some ERG members to back her deal. The idea was promptly scuppered by Arlene Foster who confirmed that the DUP would still be opposing her deal. So it’s difficult to understand what possessed May to bring her deal back to Parliament again anyway.
Just when you think that the only logical reason for her to do something so seemingly illogical is that she has some secret ploy up her sleeve, she goes ahead and confirms that in fact, she doesn’t and it was indeed illogical. The scale of the crisis has now reached epic proportions – and it’s only going to get deeper in the coming weeks.
The default position is that the UK will be leaving the EU on 12 April without a deal. There is no majority in Parliament for any possible outcome – and the 268 votes for a second referendum during Wednesday’s indicative votes that People’s Vote MPs were clinging on to as a sign that there was the most support for their option compared to any other, has now been overshadowed by the 286 votes for May’s totally discredited deal.
The second referendum option is likely to be one of the motions that is brought back for the second round of indicative votes on Monday. But these votes are non-binding and Theresa May doesn’t have to do anything even if one of them achieves a majority - which still looks unlikely at the moment anyway.
Rumours have it that May is planning to flog her dead horse of a deal for a fourth time, this time with the Political Declaration as a Meaningful Vote, in Parliament next week. But after facing fresh defeat on Friday, May commented that “we are reaching the limits of this process in this House”. I wonder what her first clue was?
It’s now seems to be dawning upon some MPs and commentators that a general election really is the only viable option. If Parliament doesn’t agree on a deal in the next two weeks, which remains the likely scenario, then we either crash out without a deal or seek a further extension – which this time will be much longer and would require the UK to participate in the European elections, and which of course also does nothing to break the deadlock.
Theresa May is simply unable to govern by any definition of the word. It is wholly unacceptable that she can remain as Prime Minister and that in her looking-glass world it would take her winning for her to resign. Nor is it acceptable that if she does resign, a new Prime Minister will be selected by the Tory party – and no doubt contenders will be putting on a show in the following two weeks to put themselves in the running for just that.
In this extraordinary situation, it is not the job of the Labour Party to try and solve the crisis for May by finding a compromise that will allow her to enact Brexit. Nor by giving any ground to those calling for a second referendum which will paint Labour as the Remain Party whether a second referendum ends up happening or not. And both these instances would allow the Tories to stay in power.
No, the Labour Party needs to put everything they have in pushing for a general election, especially now that the idea is getting some airtime in the mainstream media, and collaborate with the grassroots inside and outside the Party to amplify the pressure in every way possible.
May’s time is up, that much is certain. What happens in the next two weeks will shape the political terrain for at least the year ahead, we have to make sure it spells the end of the Tories.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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