Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way. #Brexit is a bad idea, which doesn’t seem bad to many (most?) Britons in the same way that the election of Donald Trump didn’t seem like the horrible idea that it is to many Americans, though it was obvious to the rest of the world.
This week the Prime Minister brought forward a deal in the House of Commons, which was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs, including her own Tory backbenchers, many of whom want a harder brexit without binding ties to the EU. Considering that May failed to successfully engage and get the backing of MPs, the rejection of her deal was expected. What was surprising was the level of the failure, whose magnitude was unprecedented for our generation.
Of course, consensus is seldom possible in peace time. The different options regarding exiting the European Union can be represented in three broad groups: hard brexit (orderly or ‘disorderly’ with WTO terms), a soft brexit (i.e. something that will involve membership to the common market) or no brexit.
Following the vote, May said that she would engage in a deliberative process with all parties and MPs to find out what sort of deal would pass through the House, considering her own deal did not. But, she expressly avoided to spell out what compromising deal she would put forward. The reason she avoided getting into the specifics of the next step, was that she had a vote of confidence pending, which she expectedly won, and also did not, at that point, want to alienate more of her own brexit-supporting backbenchers.
Are these traits of a great leader? Clearly not, but none said that she ever was such a leader. But her move was smart. She threw the ball back to the MPs, despite the fact that she is the one who will ultimately have to make a decision and pursue it in further negotiations with her EU counterparts.
On the other side, we have the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, who refuses to enter into discussions with the Prime Minister before she specifically rules out the possibility of a no-deal brexit. Can she do that though? No-deal brexit is what happens when there is no deal (I know, stating the obvious). To rule out a no-deal exit one would have to decide on a potentially votable deal. To rule it out altogether is to say that if such a deal is not agreed, then brexit will not happen. Making such a commitment would mean going back on the promise made to the British people about respecting the result of the referendum (carrying on with brexit). Such a commitment would open the door for endless stalling of the procedure by MPs supporting remaining in the EU.
Now, with Theresa May not willing to spell out the next step forward, the opposition party has to explain what kind of brexit deal they would support. Their preferred deal is not clear as it was never articulated, beyond platitudes that is, by the Labour Party’s leadership. Their plan thus far was to sit back and watch May fail over and over again, which she sure did. The party’s angle during the preceding months was that they want a General Election. In the meantime they kept all possible options open, including a people’s vote on the agreed deal or even potentially a second referendum.
But this vagueness won’t do it anymore. May, amidst her failing on multiple levels, managed to force the Labour Party’s hand in having no other option but to articulate the details of the deal they would support. They haven’t done it yet but if they keep on being vague they will lose credibility whereas if they make a choice their will alienate many of their supporters.
The situation is a mess. But it may actually work to May’s favour with Labour’s credibility compromised and a soft Brexit (“the only passable deal”) with support from Lab MPs.