Theresa May has to be driven out of office after another shattering defeat in parliament on Tuesday night.
The latest version of her Brexit deal was defeated by 391 votes to 241—a loss by 149. It was the third biggest defeat ever in the Commons.
May’s strategy over Brexit lies in ruins. One senior Tory MP said it “feels like the last rites of the Tory party”. Now is the moment to step up the struggle to make that a reality.
May had brought back to parliament a slightly amended version of the deal that was rejected by 230 votes in January. She claimed that she had extracted enough concessions from the European Union (EU) to enable the British government to decide when it would withdraw from the Irish “backstop” arrangement.
This is the mechanism that would keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs union until there is agreement on a full trade deal between Britain and the EU after Brexit. This is in order to avoid a hard border between Britain and Ireland after the two year Brexit transition period ends in 2021.
But May’s hopes that the deal would pass were almost instantly torpedoed by her own attorney general, Geoffrey Cox.
Cox announced that after reviewing the new elements on offer Britain could still only leave the backstop if the EU agreed.
Almost immediately the bigots of the DUP and the European Research Group (ERG) of Brexiteer Tory MPs led by Jacob Rees-Mogg said they would not back May’s deal.
A small group of Tories who had voted against the deal last time voted for it on Tuesday because they feared Brexit might otherwise be lost entirely. But not nearly enough to make a real difference.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson commented, “It’s over. The deal and perhaps May’s premiership. The DUP and the ERG and Cox have seen to that. What’s extraordinary is that no-one knows what happens next.”
The right answer is that there should be a general election. Before the vote was taken, even senior Tory MP Charles Walker said, “If the deal doesn’t get through tonight there will have to be a general election”.
This is a crisis of the whole political class and the way it does politics. A panicked Financial Times newspaper commented, “The priority now must be to avoid chaos—chaos in parliament that could be exploited by extremists of left and right, and the chaos of a no-deal exit. MPs must stabilise the political situation.”
Working class forces, not MPs, need to start shaping the outcome.
This rotten government, deeply implicated in austerity and racism, has no mandate to continue. It is the prisoner of a dozen bigots and a Tory faction that has no interest in the lives of ordinary people.
Every day the Tories stay in office means more destruction. They even used the media focus on Brexit on Tuesday to quietly announce the scrapping of the four-hour NHS waiting time target for accident and emergency units.
MPs will vote on Wednesday on a no-deal Brexit and then on Thursday whether to have an extension to the Article 50 process of leaving the EU. But how will an extension help?
May is not going to extract any further changes from the EU. The European Commission vice president Jyrki Katainen said if the deal was rejected the prospect of a “hard Brexit” moved closer and his advice was “fasten your seatbelt”.
May has perhaps one card left to play. If no-deal is off the table later this week, then the only sort of Brexit that is likely to happen will be a version that accepts even more EU rules than May’s deal.
And those who want a second referendum will also sniff an opportunity to put forward their plan.
At that point May could ask for yet another vote on her deal and some of the Rees-Mogg types might move to back her. But if this is her strategy it’s a desperate and unlikely gamble.
Labour rightly voted against the deal on Tuesday. But it isn’t offering any fighting alternative as the government goes through turmoil.
There is a great vacuum where the trade union leaders and Labour should be mobilising people for a completely different agenda to the Tories’ version of Brexit.
If they won’t encourage millions into action, then activists have to try to fill the gap.
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