OBLIGED by parliament to fetch up with a plan B after her deal with the
European Union (EU) was voted down last week by a majority of 230, the largest
defeat for a sitting government in the House of Commons, Theresa May did just
that on Monday.
plan B barely differed from her roundly rejected plan A, though. The solitary
concession was that EU citizens applying for settlement in Britain would not be
charged Â£65 for their effort. The opposition welcomed the token measure, but
accurately noted that the Brexit crisis remains unresolved.
are less than 10 weeks to go before the March 29 deadline, and the prospect of
crashing out without a ratified deal remains the likeliest outcome. Some
members of parliament, mostly on the Conservative side, and a sizeable
proportion of the public have few qualms about a no-deal Brexit,
notwithstanding considerable alarm among bureaucrats and businessmen in
particular about the chaos that could immediately ensue. The most worried
segments of the public have lately been stockpiling food and medicines, just in
characteristically displayed no emotion in the face of last week's historic
defeat, but right afterwards invited the other parties to talks at No.10
Downing Street. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has faced much criticism for turning
down the invitation unless the ruling party rules out the no-deal option, while
smaller parties attending the negotiations appear to have made no headway in
shifting the perspective of the obdurate prime minister.
is possible that next week the Commons will vote to block a no-deal scenario,
necessitating an extension of the Article 50 deadline unless a coherent deal is
ratified by the end of February. May says the EU will reject that option, even
though indications from Brussels suggest preparations are already being made
for a postponement.
claim that a second referendum, another of the mooted options, would be deeply
divisive is more credible. But deep divisions are already in place. Opinion
polls suggest that a re-vote would reverse the popular verdict, not because all
that many Britons have changed their minds but for the simple reason that the
electorate now includes many teenagers who were unable to vote in 2016, and the
young are broadly inclined towards continued membership of the EU.
polls can, of course, be way off the mark. It's nonetheless intriguing, though,
that a recent one suggested that were the vote in a general election restricted
to 18 to 24-year-olds, not a single seat would go to the Tories. That may be an
exaggeration, but it's an interesting result even with a substantial margin of
has thus far resisted calls from the party membership as well as a large
segment of Labour MPs to unequivocally back a second referendum. He prefers the
idea of a general election, despite predictably failing to dislodge May through
a parliamentary vote of no confidence, not least because all too many
Labour-held constituencies in the north of England voted to leave, and the MPs
who represent them would be loath to back a fresh vote.
the Tories who clearly have no confidence in May voted to keep her prime
ministership alive, as did the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which
cannot bring itself to back her deal because of the so-called Northern Ireland
backstop, which effectively keeps the United Kingdom, including Britain, within
an EU trade framework.
obvious alternative would be a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and
the colonised North - which, like Scotland, voted to remain in the EU. There
have even been suggestions that both Scotland and Northern Ireland could
continue to be members of the EU even as England and Wales opt out. But that's
far-fetched in the absence of Scottish independence and NorÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂthern
Ireland's long overdue reunification with the Republic, neither of which is a
option that has lately been aired, most recently by former prime minister
Gordon Brown, is people's assemblies whereby representatives of both camps
would gather together to thrash out a way forward, as people in Ireland
successfully did over the fraught issue of abortion. But, like May's
consultations with other parties, which should have been initiated in 2016, the
idea comes a bit late.
disarray increasingly tends to be described as Britain's worst crisis since the
Second World War. There is, of course, no risk of German bombers suddenly
appearing in the skies over London. It's worth recalling, though, that when the
conflagration broke out, Britain opted for a government of national unity. And
when it ended, the electorate overwhelmingly rejected Winston Churchill in
favour of his less flamboyant Labour deputy, Clement Atlee, whose government
instituted the welfare state that survived pretty much intact until the Thatcher-Blair
years. In that respect, an action replay holds out considerable promise.