Tuesday was Theresa May’s toughest day. Pressure is mounting with new challenges facing her every day. The House of Commons today began its five-day-long debate on the proposed Withdrawal Agreement, but before that began, May’s government faced three votes – and she lost all three.
MPs debated an opposition motion that found the government in Contempt of Parliament for not releasing the full legal advice on Brexit. This is the first time any government has ever been found in contempt of Parliament, losing the vote by 311 to 293. That means members of May’s party voted to find her and her ministers in contempt of Parliament, and some even sat on their hands and abstained.
Andrea Leadsom MP, leader of the House of Commons, was forced to act. She announced that the government would be releasing the full legal advice tomorrow, which could potentially damage their deal with the European Union. Legal advice is provided in many instances to the government and is not expected to release it, though a clause does recommend that in extreme circumstances these details can be released. Evidently, in this instance, the Parliamentarians thought it relevant for the advice to be released.
This would, however, give the European Union an advantage – they’ll know the UK’s strengths and weaknesses, and if this deal Theresa May has negotiated doesn’t go through, they’ll be in an even better negotiating position the second time round. Assuming, of course, there is a second time round.
The vote came after MPs from six different parties wrote a joint letter in which they urged John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, to launch the contempt of Parliament proceedings. The primary face behind the push was Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Keir Starmer MP.
Interestingly, Jacob Rees-Mogg said that the legal advice should be published, but that he thinks the motion to put the government in contempt was "badly worded" – so he didn’t vote for May’s ministers to be found in contempt. I suspect he’s playing a game here, knowing that this vote has hurt the Tories more than he’d like. He is, after all, a card-carrying Conservative and this was a big win for Labour.
May’s job, after this decision, is to continue selling her Brexit deal to the country and to Members of Parliament. The five-day debate began immediately afterwards, with Theresa May speaking for over an hour in an attempt to sell her deal to Parliament. One thing she said really struck me, and I thought it summed up the problem with her deal perfectly.
Speaking about her deal, she explained:
“Yes, it is a compromise. It speaks to the hopes and desires of our fellow citizens who voted to leave, and those who voted to stay in, and we will not bring our country together if we seek a relationship that gives everything to one side of the argument and nothing to the other. We should not let the search for the perfect Brexit prevent a good Brexit that delivers for the British people.”
She then said:
“We should not contemplate a course that fails to respect the result of the referendum, because it would decimate the trust of millions of people in our politics for a generation.”
Here’s the thing – by compromising on Brexit, she is decimating the trust of millions of people. Upon becoming Prime Minister, it became May’s duty to deliver on Brexit in a way that reflects the results of the referendum. The Leave side won, and she should therefore deliver the desire of the winning side. That’s how referenda work.
In a parallel world, where Remain won, would the David Cameron government have sought a new policy direction that offered Brexit supporters some kind of concession? Or would they have carried on as before, maintained their membership of the European Union, and brushed off the Brexiteers?
Theresa May has been coming at this problem from the wrong angle from the beginning, and it isn’t going down well with the public, or with her own party.
Her speech to the Commons today insisted that as it stands, Parliament must choose between her deal or no deal. That is her main pitch, and it’s the only way she could possibly get this atrocious plan through Parliament. But, we could also be watching the final days of Theresa May. When she ended her speech, colleagues beside her reached out and patted her on the shoulder, as if to say "well done." I couldn’t help but think that those around her knew they were congratulating a woman who tried her best, but who was ultimately doomed to fail.
May’s narrative isn’t believed by everybody, though – and today, a top advisor to the European Court of Justice completely undermined her by saying that the UK could still stop Brexit without European Union approval. Campos Sanchez-Bordona, senior legal adviser to the ECJ, has said that the UK could simply revoke Article 50 independently without permission from any EU member state. This, of course, has emboldened Remainers who may otherwise have been scared into voting for May’s deal to avoid a No Deal scenario.
So I suppose Mark Carney offering more No Deal doom and gloom today hasn’t had quite the effect I’m sure he wants. He told MPs today that, in the event of a No Deal Brexit, food prices could rise between 5 and 10%.
This is all a game of chess, and a game of chicken. Corbyn, the Labour Party, and Tory rebels are trying to prove they’re willing to play the game of chess, but how far are they really willing to go?