Nobody at the top of society knows what will happen in British politics in the next two weeks—including Theresa May. A crisis has struck at the heart of the government and the Tories.
MPs began a five-day debate on May’s proposed Brexit deal on Tuesday. But even before it began the government was defeated three times in the House of Commons.
MPs passed a motion declaring the government in contempt of parliament for failing to publish in full the legal advice on Brexit.
This is the first time in British history a government has been found in contempt. MPs voted 311 to 293 against the government, with May’s allies, the bigots of the Democratic Unionist Party, siding with the opposition.
Earlier MPs voted against a compromise, which would have referred the issue to parliament’s privileges committee, delaying it until after next week’s crunch vote on May’s deal.
MPs then inflicted a third defeat, passing an amendment tabled by Tory Dominic Grieve aimed at ensuring parliament should have a free hand to determine what happens next if MPs reject May’s Brexit deal.
These events strengthen the already very widespread view that May's Brexit deal is likely to be defeated in a vote on 11 December.
May has met MPs in small groups in an effort to persuade them to back her deal, but without success.
One normally loyal Tory said afterwards, “Theresa just said all the same things again. It was very flat, and she persuaded none of us.”
Some analysts predict May will lose by 200 votes—or even 400—in the Commons. Almost 100 Tory MPs have declared they won’t back the deal.
It’s hard to see how May could survive such a shattering defeat, although she has struggled on in the past.
She hopes that predictions of economic devastation if there is not a deal might panic enough MPs into eventually accepting her plan.
A Bank of England report last week said that, in the worst case scenario, unemployment could double and inflation rise to 6.5 percent.
There is undoubtedly an element of “Project Fear” at work. But, regardless of what happens over Brexit, many commentators are predicting another global lurch downwards soon.
The most likely result next week is that May loses and Labour moves a vote of no confidence in the government.
But most people don’t think it will win. Instead Labour is increasingly moving towards arguing for a second referendum as the “realistic” option.
What’s utterly missing from all the debates is the interests and intervention of ordinary people.
May’s deal preserves European Union (EU) regulations to protect big business and limit nationalisation, and it includes more anti-migrant laws. No socialist could support such a vision.
Instead there should be active mobilisation to demand an anti-austerity and anti-racist Brexit deal.
And it has to be linked to demands such as to scrap Universal Credit, fund the NHS, raise wages and benefits, and fund education. For as long as the Brexit debate is about parliamentary manoeuvres, the Tories, if not May, have hopes of survival. Yet Labour and the unions have made no call to protest or demonstrate.
At a time of the greatest political crisis for decades, they mobilise nothing.
The argument has to be removed from the dusty sphere of mainstream politics and taken to the streets and the workplaces.