May and Corbyn change positions – February 2019

At the end of February 2019 resignations from both the governing Conservatives and opposition Labour parties forced both Prime Minister Theresa May and Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn to change their stance on Brexit.

The Prime Minister again postponed a meaningful vote on her deal until March 12 but promised that if it was rejected Parliament would get separate votes in the following two days on a no-deal Brexit and extending the Article 50 withdrawal process beyond the current deadline of March 29.

And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was forced into supporting another public vote on Brexit.

All of which made a no-deal exit a bit less likely, a delay to the March 29 deadline more likely, and a second referendum more possible.

The prime minister had previously insisted that no deal had to remain possible and no deadline extension was possible.
But she was forced into her reversal by a threat from three senior cabinet ministers to resign unless there was a vote on no deal.
And then actual resignations by three senior Conservative MPs who supported remaining in the EU.

And Parliament has all but locked in her latest promises by voting massively – 502 to 20 –to allow votes on leaving the EU without a deal and delaying Brexit.

Corbyn had previously evaded calls for a second referendum on Brexit, insisting that Labour’s priorities were a better deal with the EU and if necessary an election – all in an attempt to keep both his party together and his voters with Labour.
But 8 MPs resigned from his Labour party to form what they call The Independent Group and were then joined by the three Conservative MPs who resigned – all opposed to the handling of Brexit by their former parties and wanting to keep close ties with the EU.

Along with continuing calls for a second referendum from various groups of politicians, ex-politicians, and members of the public Corbyn was finally prompted to execute the plan his party agreed in autumn 2018 at their annual conference.

So Labour called for a vote in Parliament on their five requirements for a better Brexit deal.
That was rejected by Parliament as expected and Labour’s move to force an election had failed.
So in line with Labour’s conference plan, Corbyn was forced to say his party would now support a second referendum.

There were other Brexit votes in Parliament on February 27 including one calling for a separate agreement with the EU on rights for both UK and EU citizens in each other’s jurisdictions even in the case of a no-deal Brexit – this was approved without a vote as there was no opposition to it.

Prime Minister May had narrowly kept her withdrawal deal with the EU alive at the end of January – and at the same time moved a step closer to leaving with no deal.

She said she would try to convince the EU to change the backstop arrangement which was designed to avoid any return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic – a part of the withdrawal deal adamantly opposed by hardline Brexit supporters.
The EU immediately said this could not be changed and maintained this position through February. Parliament also voted to reject leaving the EU with no deal but the vote was not binding on the government and the prime minister continued refusing to rule it out.

As usual the main national newspapers headlined the result in line with their positions on Brexit.

The series of Parliamentary votes on January 29 could be interpreted as Mrs. May giving in to hardline Brexiters in her party and moving closer to their desire for no deal.
Right wing pro-Brexit Conservatives and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which propped up her government objected to the backstop.
She won their support on January 29 by 317 to 301 by pushing her party to vote for an amendment calling for changes to the deal she negotiated and strongly promoted for the last two months.
Parliament also voted 318-310 to reject leaving the EU with no deal but defeated all other amendments, most either trying to prevent no deal or extending the deadline for leaving the EU.

Currently the law– Article 50 – required the UK to leave on March 29. It would have to be extended or stopped to prevent that as a majority of all MPs prefer but there have also been suggestions from Brexit supporters inside and outside Parliament to shut Parliament down to ensure the UK leaves the EU on March 29.

Despite a massive rejection by MPs on Jan. 15 of her withdrawal agreement with the EU, Mrs. May persisted in pursuing her plan, continuing to claim the only other option was leaving with no deal.
She lost the crucial vote in Parliament on her plan on Jan.15 by 230 votes – 432 against her deal to 202 for, the largest defeat of a sitting British government ever.

She immediately faced a motion of no confidence in her government moved by Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn. She won that vote 325 to 306 on the next day with the support of all her own Conservative Party and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

She then immediately urged MPs and opposition leaders to join her in reaching a solution.
She had not done this during two years of negotiating her rejected deal with the EU, was told by the leaders of every opposition party she must abandon her threat of exiting the EU with no deal for such talks to proceed, and showed no immediate sign of changing anything in her position.

Her direct approach was reported to be over two days later although she continued to say she wanted to find agreement on Brexit.

There was continuing and widespread opposition both outside and inside her own party as MPs considered multiple other options – none of which gained a clear consensus from MPs.

They included, as they have since December:
– the UK leaves the EU with no deal as currently required by the Article 50 law which triggered the Brexit process.
– extension or suspension of the Article 50 deadline for Brexit on March 29.
– Theresa May comes back yet again to Parliament with a deal – possibly changed from her original one.
– Parliament votes to try for a different deal with the EU based on either the Norway or Canada models or something new.
– Another referendum, an option pushed by a number of politicians and public campaigns who supported staying in the EU. The form and questions on the referendum ballot were hotly debated, the government had to propose legislation to allow it, and a majority in the Commons had to approve it.
– A general election – the Opposition Labour Party’s preferred option but again it required Parliamentary approval from a fractious and much divided Parliament – and country.
– A Labour minority government formed without a general election if the governing Tories fell in Parliament and the Queen invited Labour to try to govern.

The January 15 vote came a month after Prime Minister May delayed a crucial vote in Parliament.
And instead of facing a “meaningful vote” – and possible amendments – on her deal, she was suddenly confronted by a vote of no-confidence in her leadership, mainly from right-wing pro-Brexit supporters in her Conservative party. She won 200-117 and could not face the same challenge for another year.

Prime Minister postpones meaningful vote with promises
Jeremy Corbyn forced to support second referendum
No-deal Brexit less likely
Brexit delay more likely
Parliament locks in May promises
The Independent Group
Corbyn prompted to follow Labour conference plan
Other Brexit votes in Parliament in February
PM keeps her withdrawal deal alive
Closer to a no deal Brexit
EU refuses to change Irish backstop
Parliament rejects leaving the EU with no deal
PM refuses to rule out no deal
Newspaper headlines January 2019
Interpreting Parliamentary votes
PM moves closer to hardline Brexiters?
Parliament defeats amendments
Trying to extend the deadline
Article 50
Article 50 options
Suspend Parliament say Brexit MPs
Suspend Parliament says Nigel Farage
PM suffers largest ever Parliamentary defeat
PM wins no confidence vote
PM urges support for a solution
PM told to abandon threat of no deal
PM search for support ends
PM delays crucial vote
“Meaningful vote”
PM wins Conservative no confidence vote
BBC – politics
ITV – politics
FT – politics
Politico – Brexit
Sky News – politics
The Independent – Brexit
The Telegraph  – Brexit
The Guardian  – referendum
Time magazine