BREXIT UPDATE 8: SWIMMING ROUND IN CIRCLES
Today, in yet another “Groundhog Day” statement to the House of Commons, the Maybot, making use of the Alice-in-Wonderland logic that we have come to expect from her, set out her March Hare timetable:
1) On March 12, she will present a revised version of her deal to Parliament for debate and vote.
2) If the deal is again voted down, Parliament will vote on March 13 on the question of whether or not it wants to leave the EU on March 29 with No Deal.
3) If No Deal is voted down, on March 14 Parliament will vote on whether or not to ask for an extension of Article 50 – ie extend the leaving date.
The Maybot made it clear that she herself is opposed to an extension; if one is voted for, she wants the time to be as short as possible – no later than the end of June, to avoid Britain having to be involved in the European Parliament elections.
Her offer of a vote on March 13 to rule out No Deal seems to be an attempt to appease Cabinet members who have been threatening to resign so that they can vote for the Cooper-Letwin Amendment mentioned in Brexit Update 6. And indeed the Cooper-Letwin Amendment has now been withdrawn, though it seems that Yvette Cooper will be putting forward a separate amendment reiterating the Maybot’s new position on No Deal.
Yet “clarity” was far from being achieved in the Maybot’s statement. She still constantly repeated the phrase with which she has been reprogrammed: “the only way to prevent No Deal is to vote for a deal”. She appeared to be saying that, even if there is an extension of the leaving date, at the end of that time Parliament will yet again be faced with the stark choice of voting for her deal, No Deal or a revocation of Article 50 – ie staying in the EU (which was the only option she definitively ruled out). So it seems that, even if Parliament votes to rule out No Deal on March 29, this will not apply to any further date that is set for leaving; Parliament could once again vote against No Deal as the new date looms, then vote for another extension and so on and so on for ever. At the question session after the statement, Jonathan Edwards, a Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalist) MP, called the process “the political equivalent of swimming round in circles”.
The Maybot also claimed that Jeremy Corbyn had gone back on his support for Brexit and now wanted a second referendum. In making this assertion, she was in line with most of the mainstream media, which has been loudly claiming in recent days that Labour has changed its policy to support for the “People’s Vote”. But as the Skwawkbox website has pointed out, an amendment being put forward for tomorrow’s debate by Jeremy Corbyn only refers to his Brexit plan. However, Labour also said it would back the (now withdrawn) Cooper-Letwin amendment to block No Deal; and it announced in a press release that, if its amendment on Corbyn’s Brexit plan is defeated tomorrow, “Labour will put forward or support an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit”.
Presumably this proposed amendment would be put forward during the March debates. The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, has indicated that the choice would be between May’s deal, if it passes, and remaining in the EU. But it is still very unclear what the wording would be, so it is hard to comment on this proposed amendment at present.
It should also be emphasised that, even though Corbyn’s amendment on his own Brexit plan is virtually certain to be defeated, it is also highly unlikely that any revised deal put forward by May will pass; and it is also very unlikely that any proposed Labour amendment on a second referendum would pass either.
In the post mentioned above, Skwawkbox claims that there is no change at all in Labour Party policy. It is true that, as Skwawbox points out, Labour has always kept open the option of a second referendum as a last resort; but this move does seem to be an attempt by the Labour Shadow Cabinet to keep the Party together, in the face of the threat of more Remainer defections to the Independent Group (now known as TIG). However, the proposed amendment clearly doesn’t change Labour Party policy – as is claimed by Theresa May – in the direction of rejection of Brexit. The BBC’s analyst Laura Kuenssberg plays the move down, writing:
“The Labour leadership has moved to this position believing that, as things stand, a plan to hold another referendum would not get the votes it needs in Parliament. Right now, they reckon it’s a promise they can make, but will probably never have to keep. But if, as this political moment implies, there is a total meltdown, the prime minister’s deal fails and chaos beckons, the move tonight keeps Labour’s options firmly open and has a better shout at keeping anxious Labour Europhiles happy.” 
In his response to the Maybot, Corbyn said: “Labour accepts the referendum result. But we believe in getting the terms of our exit right. That’s why we believe in an alternative plan.” He added that if May’s revised deal “somehow passes, we believe it should be put to the people”. He also castigated the Maybot for being “grotesquely reckless” in “stringing people along” and “running down the clock”. In her reply, May denied that she was running down the clock by continuing to refuse to rule out No Deal. To loud jeering, she complained that “it is the Right Honourable Gentleman who has kept No Deal on the table by refusing to vote for a deal”.
As the BBC has pointed out, the Maybot has carefully avoided a debate or vote on the Ides of March; but all the same she does seem to be approaching meltdown.
The next Brexit Update will discuss the amendments that are selected and voted on tomorrow and consider what might happen next.