By Michael L Jarvis, London UK
Britain’s Brexit D-Day, planned for Friday March 29th, came to a dramatic halt with parliamentarians, including some of the government’s own MPs, defying their party and government, and blocking it.
A humbled Prime Minister Theresa May, who had hubristically laid down red lines and proclaimed that ‘no deal was better than a bad deal’, had to watch humbled as the parliament dished out a third defeat for her EU Withdrawal Agreement.
It was quite literally another red card for her red lines and further rejection of her deal, ‘the best deal possible under the circumstances’ as she has sold it.
Mrs May’s mantra of upholding British democracy and respecting the will of the British voters in the 2016 referendum, loses effect correspondingly with every time she utters it.
It’s a noble position to take. After all, voters did in fact opt to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum - but by an unconvincingly narrow margin.
But that was the system that the parliament had put in place and subsequently voted to uphold, until that is, it became clear that the referendum was campaigned on a wave of misinformation.
Some of that might have been unintended (lack of adequate knowledge about the EU and Britain’s role in it), but much of it clearly calculated to mislead.
Warnings about the complexity of an EU/UK divorce were ignored or otherwise shouted down in a cacophony of half-truths and in some cases, outright lies.
The Irish border, Gibraltar and Spain, and even Anguilla and the UK’s EU Caribbean border with Dutch and French St Maarten didn’t quite figure on the radar of the Leavers - and even some Remainers.
Amidst the noise and caught up in the euphoria of victory, the UK, led by a prime minister who was pro-Remain (at least during the campaign), went into severance negotiations with the EU comparatively unprepared - well, compared to the EU.
Three UK Brexit Secretaries later, the EU’s lead negotiating team has remained virtually unchanged.
But the deal that Mrs May and her team thought they had sealed, is coming apart by the seams; picked apart by unrelenting parliamentary, public and media scrutiny, and in part the victim of sheer political opportunism.
So Prime Minister May is in a quandary.
The fall from hubris to humility has been steep and the political velocity could be terminal for her.
But even as her Brexit deal unravels around her Mrs May is displaying a Thatcher-like stoicism, appealing to the party colleagues and parliament to safeguard British democracy and accept her deal which she maintains is in the best interest of the country; safeguarding the economy and protecting jobs.
It’s not just her job that’s at stake; a few days ago in what was said by insiders as a heartfelt appeal to her party’s top political directorate, she offered to resign if they voted to push her deal through.
The lioness at the Parliamentary Despatch Box had given apparently morphed into a pleading gazelle.
Despite the sincerity of her appeal, which won over several of her party’s own hardline Brexiteers (“I’ll hold my nose and vote for it” was a common refrain), it wasn’t enough to win the day on Friday.
Mrs May’s negotiated March 29th Brexit D-Day lay in tatters after Friday afternoon’s vote.
In the glaring spotlight of public, international media attention, and in front of thousands gathered outside the House of Commons in deceptively bright spring sunshine, her passionate appeal failed to win over her opponents.
They poured cold water on her ambitions…and possibly her legacy.
But the prime minister’s stoicism, some call it stubbornness, though battered, is not broken, much to the amazement of some…and annoyance of others.
Friday’s outcome was prepared for - disaster planning of sorts.
Reminiscent of the Irish backstop arrangement the EU had secured for its side of the Brexit Withdrawal deal, a backstop arrangement was sought (begged?) and obtained by Mrs May, after it the scale of resistance to her deal became obvious.
She had returned to the EU to appeal for temporary adjustments to her original ‘redlined’ deal and schedule.
The EU complied and offered an initial Brexit D-Day extension to April 12th and a final option on May 22nd.
If the UK is still undecided by then it would either have to crash out of the EU without a deal - Mrs May’s ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ - or participate in the May 23rd EU parliamentary elections.
Like this week in Brexit Britain, next week will be equally crucial.
In the meantime, the manoeuvring is well underway - again - for the leadership of the ruling Conservative party for Mrs May’s job.
There are also calls by the opposition for new elections rather than an in-party successor to the prime minister.
And, the parliament which this week voted to take control of the parliamentary agenda away from the government, could not muster enough support for a new referendum.
That’s despite hundreds of thousands (some estimate a million) people marching through London for a people’s vote last week, and a record 5 million signing a parliamentary petition to revoke Article 50, the EU legislation for leaving the bloc.
But it’s not yet over.
At press time, hectic negotiations were taking place with parliamentarians reported to be reviewing previous voting positions ahead of yet another vote now expected on Monday April 1st. (And that’s no All Fools Day joke).
Back on the table are; a fresh referendum and Britain within the EU customs union with an arrangement similar to that of Norway or a trade arrangement similar to that with Canada has with the bloc.