The meaningful vote on the withdrawal deal is tomorrow. It’s finally crunch time, and Mrs. May doesn’t have time to delay it again. It’s happening tomorrow, no matter what, and her statement in the House of Commons today was intended to bring together Parliament and get them back on board with her deal.
But, she may have failed.
May’s primary goal was to assure the House – and in particular, the Democratic Unionist Party (on which her Parliamentary majority hangs) – that the UK-wide backstop would be a temporary solution only. Throughout the Christmas period, the Prime Minister spoke with EU leaders in an attempt to gain new assurances, after being told changes to the withdrawal agreement weren’t possible. The question all along has been whether these assurances could be strong enough to sway Remain and Leave MPs that the deal is a good one, and that the backstop would not remain indefinitely.
In a speech to the Commons today, Mrs. May finally outlined the assurances she has been given. She referred to letters between the UK government and Presidents Juncker and Rusk, which were published today. Her statement explained how the letters showed that the EU would “use its best endeavours” to ensure that the backstop would only remain in place for as long as necessary. She says that the EU doesn’t like the backstop either – as it would mean Britain “benefitting” from the EU without having to accept freedom of movement and other requirements.
While it may have convinced some, it didn’t seem to impress the DUP. The party today rejected her assurances and branded them “meaningless”, meaning the Prime Minister can almost certainly count on ten fewer votes when the time comes. DUP leader Nigel Dodds said that his party was simply not reassured by the communication from Tusk and Juncker, explaining:
“Despite a letter of supposed reassurance from the European Union, there are “no legally binding assurances” as the Prime Minister talked about in December…In fact, there is noting new. Nothing has changed.”
He’s not wrong. Today’s announcement was a total nothing burger, to borrow a phrase from the Americans, and appears to be little more than a political manoeuvre designed to win people over last minute. Hopefully, she thinks, some MPs will come around and change their mind last minute when they consider just how badly this might go if we leave without a deal. That’s why the Prime Minister left this announcement to the last minute – and, it’s likely why she has begun warning Leave supporters that the politicians in Westminster are more likely to cancel Brexit than they are to allow it to go ahead without a deal.
Mrs. May is crossing her fingers and her toes tonight that Brexiteers in the Commons will come around and support her deal to ensure some kind of Brexit goes ahead. She knows the Remainers won’t budge.