The Corner


Parliament against Everything

Tellers announce the results of the vote on Brexit in Parliament in London, England, March 13, 2019. (Reuters TV via REUTERS )

In the wake of the Parliament’s second rejection of Theresa May’s negotiated withdrawal agreement, the House of Commons is voting on many amendments that are meant to determine what Parliament would like to see happen. The answer turns out to be: almost nothing.

Parliament already narrowly expressed its wish not to leave the EU without a deal. And today the action is swift. A vote supportive of delaying Brexit and carrying on a second referendum, was defeated resoundingly. Only 85 MPs voted for it. A vote to give parliament more control over the Brexit process-the Benn amendment-taking things out of Theresa May’s hands, was also defeated. The “EEA” or Norway option, of retaining economic ties to the European Union was defeated. Leaving the political project but remaining in the customs union, defeated. And the “Malthouse compromise” which had been promoted by arch-Brexiteers like Jacob Rees Mogg has also been defeated. A plan to allow “indicative votes” — that is, where MPs express support for different options, rather than follow a party plan and the guide of party whips — was also rejected. One of the only things that was approved was an amendment that urged seeking an extension of Article 50 to June 30 if Parliament approves May’s Brexit deal by March 20.

While people may see this flurry of votes as a sign of indecision, or even chaos, there is a logic to them. MPs truly do not want responsibility for implementing Brexit, or cancelling it. On the other side of the equation looms Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, which has consumed, and will destroy her premiership. All they have to do is pass it on a third try. Brexit will be accomplished. May will likely be jettisoned. And a new Prime Minister will take control of the next phase of this long process, negotiating the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the EU. Even if May gets credit for getting her deal through Parliament, and fulfilling her contradictory goals on Brexit, the party will be done with her.

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