Bercow's Brexit Bedlam
After the government's hard fought victory last week, enabling the prime minister to request a short extension of Article 50, this week looked relatively straight forward. John Bercow, speaker of the house, had other ideas and his explosive intervention on Monday put paid to the idea of 'calm before the storm', instead bringing the storm crashing down on the heads of everyone in parliament.
He's only gone and done it!
The prime minister, the cabinet, parliament and most political commentators were left flabbergasted on Monday afternoon, after the speaker, seemingly torpedoed Theresa May's plans for holding a meaningful vote this week or in the foreseeable future. There were cries of support and howls of anguish from MPs across the house at the decision to invoke a convention from 1604; as he went on to outline that the meaningful vote "may not be brought forward again during the same session" as the motion had not been substantially changed. The speaker's decision left the government and parliament in limbo in regards to its Brexit plans, however it seems as though the EU could have given May a life line. of sorts.
Theresa May travelled to Brussels on Thursday in order to negotiate a short extension with the European Council. They committed to an extension until 22 May 2019, provided the withdrawal agreement is approved by the House of Commons next week. This is set to give the government time to pass the necessary legislation needed to facilitate Brexit. The mood of the council, however, was gloomy after meeting with the prime minister, with President Macron stating that before May arrived at the summit he had given her deal a 10% chance of success in the House of Commons next week; but after meeting with her, he revised that down to 5%.
With this lack of faith in the prime minister's leadership, members of the European Council took it upon themselves to come up with a plan to deliver "a way forward". This led to the new effective deadline of 12th April being agreed, giving the UK a final role of the dice (if May's deal is defeated) to come up with an acceptable "plan B", which would allow the EU to offer a further Article 50 extension. However, if a resolution is not found by this time then no-deal plans will be activated.
May vs. Them
Late on Wednesday, the political Twitterati lit up with excitement at the news that Theresa May was set to make a speech addressing the nation. A new general election? A timetable for her resignation? No, instead she took this opportunity to outline to the British public: "I am on your side," before acknowledging that Brexit would have to be delayed to "no later than 30th June". There was also a subtle hint of her standing down if a longer extension was required. The PM didn't take responsibility for this decision, however, and instead declared that parliament was to blame because it "has done everything possible to avoid making a choice".
With the polling showing that the general public were turning away from her deal, the speech enraged MPs who felt she was pitting the people against parliament. It also led one backbencher to comment: "at some point she has to confront that her deal is dead. Parliament will simply not allow a minority government to overrule its no-deal decision. That would be an assault on our parliamentary democracy."
50 shades of May
This week was a chance for groups from all sides of the Brexit divide to pull back and reconvene in the wake of Bercow's intervention on Monday.
The cabinet's meeting on Tuesday morning was widely leaked to the media, and from the outset there didn't seem to be much agreement on the government's next move. One source claimed that Theresa May "sat there like a nodding dog, not making a proper decision. She should be leading." Another claimed that the leader of the house, Andrea Leadsom "tore into people around the table" before moving on to set out her support for a no-deal Brexit.
This led to a wider meeting of the leaders of the major parties on Wednesday. This was over before it began when Jeremy Corbyn refused to take part after learning that Chuka Umunna, de facto leader of the Independent Group, had also been invited. Party leaders, who stayed to discuss Theresa May's plans with her, were also left wanting after it became all too clear that it was her deal or no-deal. Vince Cable warned her of the economic pain that would come with a no-deal scenario, only to receive the prime minister's reply that "the people voted for pain".
Looking ahead to next week
We can be sure that the UK will not be leaving the European Union on the 29th March and we can be sure that the stage is set for a final showdown on the prime minister's deal. What this will lead to next week though is anyone's guess, particularly in regards to the fate of the withdrawal agreement and the PM herself.
Control of the process seems to have finally been taken away from Theresa May; however it's unclear who's now in charge. Is it the people or parliament? Are the EU now firmly in the driving seat? Or does Theresa May have one final trick up her sleeve?
Bercow's Brexit Bedlam