Brexit: Theresa May defeated…again
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street for the House of Commons ahead of a Brexit vote, Feb. 14. Steve Parsons | PA via AP

British Prime Minister (PM) Theresa May’s unwavering loyalty to and belief in her Brexit Plan “B”—a watered-down version of Plan “A”—as the only European Union (divorce) option, despite significant opposition, represents the most overused cliché statement in politics: “The definition of insanity is doing the same over and over and over and expecting a different result.”

Her Plan “B’s” not-so-surprising defeat by British lawmakers yesterday plays right into the cliché narrative and shows stubbornness on both sides of the EU negotiation tables with only six weeks to go.

The House of Commons voted 303 to 258 against a conservative motion reiterating support towards the PM’s Brexit approach—countering the support expressed by Members of Parliament two weeks ago.

May’s loss came from a backbench rebellion by hard-core Brexit MPs associated with the European Research Group (ERG), a research group for UK Conservative MPs opposed to EU membership, led by Jacob Rees-Mogg. Their abstention from the vote doomed the motion’s success right from the start, and ends the temporary Brexit truce between Conservative MPs.

While the political defeat is symbolic and non-binding, it further shows the PM’s inability to control her own Conservative Party, and the weak bargaining position she has in securing changes to the original Brexit agreement.

May, who wasn’t present at yesterday’s vote, rushed to put a positive twist on the defeat.

A statement from the PM’s office said:

“While we didn’t secure the support of the Commons this evening, the prime minister continues to believe, and the debate itself indicated, that far from objecting to securing changes to the backstop that will allow us to leave with a deal, there was a concern from some Conservative colleagues about taking no deal off the table at this stage.

“The motion on 29 January remains the only one the House of Commons has passed expressing what it does want, and that is legally binding changes to address concerns about the backstop,” it continued. “The government will continue to pursue this (Brexit renegotiation) with the EU to ensure we leave on time on 29 March.”

May’s optimism is accompanied by a new wave of doubt for EU leaders who maintain the original agreement is the best option and see no room for compromise on the Irish border issue—other than the one already established ensuring no hard border.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn demanded May come before the Commons and explain her Brexit plan with parliamentary support absent in her current approach.

“Tonight’s vote shows there is no majority for the prime minister’s course of action in dealing with Brexit,” he said. “Yet again her government has been defeated. The government cannot keep on ignoring parliament or ploughing on towards 29 March without a coherent plan.”

In response, May attempted to shift blame onto Labour, saying its “failure to support the motion made the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal more likely.”

It’s easier to point fingers than take responsibility for certain actions. In the PM’s case with Labour, that action was quick dismissal of a potential Brexit deal solution presented by the opposition.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: “No news is not always good news. EU27 still waiting for concrete, realistic proposals from London on how to break #Brexit impasse.”

Despite escalating tensions within her own party and beyond, May has made it clear she will not take a “no-deal” Brexit off the table, despite the possible disastrous economic impact a crash out of the EU would have.

The PM will return to Brussels next week in her continued attempt to negotiate EU concessions to the current deal. MPs will vote again on the next stage of the PM’s Brexit negotiations Feb. 27.

Two other motions were defeated yesterday:

  • MP Ian Blackford’s Amendment (i): Requiring the Government to immediately open negotiations with the EU to extend the Article 50 timeline by at least three months.
  • Labour’s Amendment (a): Giving the deadline of Feb. 27 for the Government to hold a meaningful vote on Labour’s proposed deal or make a statement that there is no agreement and allow MPs to vote on how to move forward.



Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.