With Vote On Hold, Theresa May Struggles To Save Brexit

Theresa May is trying to save a Brexit deal that appears to be becoming more doomed by the day.

One day after being forced to postpone a vote in Parliament on the final Brexit deal due to the fact that she didn’t have sufficient support to pass it, Theresa May is struggling to save her Brexit deal:

LONDON — After an embarrassing setback in Parliament, Prime Minister Theresa May toured European capitals on Tuesday, meeting with leaders and looking for some way to shore up support back home for her imperiled agreement on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

British lawmakers had been scheduled to vote on the agreement on Tuesday, but after a debate in which it came under attack not only from the opposition but also from many members of her own Conservative Party, Mrs. May delayed the vote on Monday, acknowledging that her plans had faced defeat “by a significant margin.”

Her retreat undermined the tenuous hold on power by a prime minister whose opponents, both inside and outside her party, have been speaking openly about trying to topple her. It also left Britain’s exit from the European Union, or Brexit, in limbo, with lawmakers and analysts alike saying it was anyone’s guess what would happen next.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, suggested on Tuesday that he would try to bring down the government through a vote of no confidence, but refused to say when. Leaders of several smaller opposition parties this week urged Mr. Corbyn to make a no-confidence motion, vowing to support it.

“We need to do the appropriate thing at the appropriate time to have a motion of no confidence in order to get rid of this government,” he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Parliament held an emergency debate on the postponement of the vote, called by Mr. Corbyn — essentially a chance for lawmakers to vent their discontent.

Parliament will get a chance to vote on the agreement some time before Jan. 21, government officials said on Tuesday; there had been speculation that a vote could technically be delayed until March, when Britain is scheduled to leave the union at the end of the month. But opposition lawmakers said they had little faith in such assurances, accusing Mrs. May of having reversed several previous commitments, including the promise of a vote on Tuesday.

“Now that the government has pulled the vote, we don’t know when a vote will come, or even whether a vote will come,” said Yvette Cooper, a Labour member of Parliament.

Mrs. May met Tuesday morning in The Hague with her Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte, who is seen as her closest ally within the European Union, and then flew to Berlin to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Later in the day, she planned to travel to Brussels to meet with European Union leaders. The bloc’s heads of government are to meet on Thursday and Friday.

As if to symbolize the entire disaster that Brexit has become for May, she had difficulty getting out of her car when she met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

If that isn’t a metaphor for the entire Brexit disaster, I don’t know what is.4

At this point, though, it’s unclear exactly what it is that May can do to save either Brexit or her own political future. Delaying the vote in Parliament is only likely to give the opposition more time to organize and solidify its own support and, absent significant concessions that the European Union does not seem inclined to make, it seems unlikely that she’ll be able to change the deal sufficiently to address the problems the critics have with it. Additionally, the fact that Europe’s highest court has now ruled that the Brexit process can be halted and withdrawn is likely to give Brexit opponents in the United Kingdom new ammunition with which to oppose the government’s position or, at the very least, keep up the pressure for a second referendum to approve or disapprove the Brexit deal, something that polling suggests the “Remain” side would win this time around.

Even is she does somehow manage to get Brexit through, with or without modifications, it seems pretty clear that May’s days as Prime Minister are numbered. Much like her predecessor David Cameron, May was a Remainer who turned into a Brexiteer overnight and who has, mostly ineptly, tried to implement an idea that she clearly doesn’t believe in. The result has been the inevitable bad deal, although it’s unclear how there could have been a “good” deal for the United Kingdom in what is clearly a bad idea. In any case, in the process, she’s managed to lose the respect and support of her own party, her coalition partners in the DUP, and pretty much anyone else. Whether Brexit goes forward or not, I don’t expect we’ll see May at 10 Downing Street for much longer. Who replaces her is another question entirely. As things stand, the Labour Party is in favor of Brexit as much as the government has been so it’s hard to see them changing position on that issue. Additionally, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is still popular in his own party, he clearly doesn’t measure up as someone who would make a good Prime Minister even if his party did manage to win an election in the near future. Given that, it seems likely that we’re going to see another General Election in the United Kingdom sooner rather than later.

FILED UNDER: Europe, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    There’s been talk that the ECJ came out with the “sure, you can revoke Article 50” as a way of trolling the die-hard leavers.

    The rest of the EU looks like it’s getting fed up with the U.K.’s continued self-identity crisis. All this “no, we’re not going to renegotiate the package” makes me think at this moment they couldn’t care less if the U.K. just went over the cliff, paralyzed by acute indecision.

    This really is a U.K. political party civil war, egged on by idiots like Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson who hope to benefit from the situation.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Given that no consensus exists in the UK with regard to leaving, never mind how to leave the EU, May undertook a fools errand. It is often said that the Brits manage to muddle through, in this case the muddling will be grabbing hold o the EU court’s ruling that the UK can unilaterally withdraw the Article 50 notification.

  3. JohnSF says:

    Re. General Election: not necessarily.
    Fixed term Parliament Act means a Commons majority vote required.
    That means some Conservatives would have to vote for.
    Unlikely IMHO unless May decides to go for one last roll of the dice, and even then Cons. might just tell her to sod off.

    Latest strong rumour from Westminster: the 48 letter threshold has been reached, and Sir Graham Brady will meet Mrs May tomorrow to inform her formally. Looks like Conservative Party leadership contest is game on.

    Nicky Morgan MP (Con) has called in the House for a “government of national unity”.

    Labour looks likely to call a no confidence vote “before Christmas”

    Sterling now at 1.26 to the dollar, 1.11 to euro, and if it doesn’t drop again tomorrow I’ll be astonished.

    Can we navigate out of the political perfect storm is the question now.

    UK politics is now at JonCon2.
    Looks like I picked the wrong year to quit sniffing glue.

  4. Gustopher says:

    Given that Brexit barely won the referendum, and that everything has gone downhill since, why is there so much confusion? Put it up for another vote, let it fail, and then move on with life.

    No one wants to have their hands in this mess, do they? Is there any situation for any politician where working on Brexit is going to be good for them?

    Teresa May may not survive as PM with a failed Brexit, but she isn’t going to survive with a successful Brexit. Go for the Hail Mary reversal.

  5. Gustopher says:

    Given that the Brits can unilaterally stop the Brexit process at any time, and can unilaterally declare that they are leaving the EU… why not just oscillate on Brexit forever, taunting and annoying everyone for as long as possible?

    This Brexit drama doesn’t have to end. Just stretch it out forever and ever and ever.

    (Just pondering if there was a worse course of action the Brits could take than what they are doing now)

  6. JohnSF says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    withdraw the Article 50 notification

    That’s definitely what I think we should do, and there might even be a potential majority for it in the private thoughts of MPs.
    But it’s currently politically impossible; it might win a free vote in the Commons, but that’s not going to happen YET.
    Both Labour and Conservative party leaderships (and likely Con. replacements for May in a party membership vote) are against, and their activists remain dominated by Leavers among Conservative, Corbynites among Labour.
    Breaking for rescinding Article 50 would be personal political suicide for most MPs at this point.

    They need the cover of the May deal being voted down first, and for Lab. MPs clear failure of attempt to force a general election.

    Then they need to move to force hardcore Leave Cons. aside and establish cross-party agreement (!) for choice between EEA/CU option, Article 50 rescind, &/or 2nd referendum.
    The politics of this is hellish.

  7. Barry says:

    @Gustopher: “…why not just oscillate on Brexit forever, taunting and annoying everyone for as long as possible?”

    Do you really think that the rest of the EU will let a major player play ‘in and out’ with one foot on either side of the line?

  8. Kathy says:

    To quote Ned Flanders: “Not. Worth. Saving.”

  9. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    I can’t decide if May is a glutton for punishment or an idiot. I’d have long ago quit and told everyone upset with her to work the impossible problem themselves. Let a true Brexit supporter take over. The country will still go over the cliff, but it’s going to do that anyway and at least the real idiots responsible will have to answer for it.