In the eleventh hour, British PM Theresa May recoiled to delay a decision on her Brexit deal. The move may save her government for the time being but makes a hard Brexit is more likely, writes Barbara Wesel.
Westminster could have been the setting of a comedy farce on Monday, with British Prime Minister Theresa May chasing loyal minister Michael Gove through TV studios in the morning to seek assurance that the vote on the Brexit deal would take place as planned.
At noon, a Downing Street spokeswoman confirmed the announcement.
Half an hour later May pulled the ripcord and postponed the vote, which likely would have been a catastrophic defeat for the prime minister. Now, she’ll probably be sending her deputies on their Christmas break with the Brexit contract in hand as reading material. Happy holidays!
Simply buying time
It looks as if May wants to use all the time she possibly can to pass this draft deal. She wants to leave Parliament to stew in the hope that over Christmas punch and turkey roast, the fear of a hard Brexit will intensify and resistance to her deal will weaken.
During the Brexit negotiations, May has hesitated, wavered and postponed decisions as long as possible; she has become a repeat offender. In Brussels, talks were unable to progress because London was mainly negotiating with itself. All this has amounted to further harm at the expense of the British people.
In Brussels, lawmakers are simply shaking their heads at the absurd theater in London. May has now lost whatever shreds of credibility she had left. One might be reminded of a Monty Python sketch — but at least there, the madness had a method. Again on Monday, May reiterated that the draft deal represented the best Brexit offer ever, though hardly anyone lapped up the tired optimism of her promises.
Hope dies last
The prime minister’s gamble, however, could backfire. She is returning to Brussels this week to again demand that the so-called Irish backstop against a hard border on the island be removed from the deal. She will be lucky, however, if she doesn’t get the 585-page divorce contract thrown in her face.
After the summit in Brussels she must once again crawl back to London, tail between her legs, and admit defeat, having tried everything to meet the Brexiteers’ demands. But will that be enough to overcome the resistance within the Tories and factions of the opposition? It’s more likely that the hostility against her will only increase.
After the vote was postponed, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called May’s move “political cowardice.” The prime minister may have temporarily secured her office and claim to power, but her fate is nevertheless sealed.
Maintaining power at the expense of the nation
May’s decision to back down has wasted the precious time needed to make the final decisions on Brexit, or to revise the deal — because the most straightforward solution to the political impasse would be a second referendum.
The prime minister is thus playing into the hands of the fanatics in her party, who are now waffling about a hard Brexit under the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), including emergency legislation with the EU.
After all, trucks are somehow supposed to keep rolling into Dover. The whole affair is an unfeasible fantasy with devastating economic consequences that are easy to foresee.
May has placed party politics and her retention of power above the common good of her country. Politics always has to do with strategy — doing the right thing at the right moment. May’s performance is merely an act of political surrender to stop her head from rolling, a spectacle certainly to be watched with horror and revulsion.