Having said for months that her deal could not be renegotiated, she has now proposed to exactly that. She has swung back to the ERG and demanded that the that the backstop is essentially scrapped.
The EU rejected the proposition within minutes of the vote in a prepared statement, saying that the divorce agreement, negotiated over two years, is non-negotiable and will not be reopened. The fantasy world of the ERG is that leaving the EU under today’s conditions is simple and unproblematic and that the Irish backstop agreement has nothing to do with protecting Ireland north and south against a breakdown in the Good Friday agreement but a plot by the EU to sabotage Brexit.
The vote united the Tory Party, briefly, but resolved nothing. The upshot is that May’s underlying strategy, in cahoots with the ERG, of running down the clock until a disorderly crash out becomes unavoidable, remains on course at least for another fortnight when she must report the results of her efforts to get the EU to change their minds.
Two other votes were important. The first was the proposition to extend clause 50 moved by Yvette Cooper with the support of the Labour front bench which would have ruled out a disorderly Brexit at this stage. This was defeated by 321 votes to 298 with 14 Labour MPs against including Kate Hoey, Graham Stringer and Dennis Skinner. The other was an amendment by Tory MP Carolyne Spelman calling for a no deal Brexit to be ruled out, which was narrowly carried, again with the support of the Labour front bench. 17 Tory MPs voted for the amendment. Hoey, Stringer and Jarrow MP, Stephen Hepburn also voted for the so-called Brady amendment.
Jeremy Corbyn’s response to this when he replied to May’s ‘victory’ speech was to say that now that a crash out Brexit had been taken off the table by the Spelman amendment, he was prepared to accept May’s invitation to her (completely meaningless) cross party talks. This was a serous misreading. Far from taking a no deal Brexit off the table a no deal Brexit is more firmly on the table. The Spelman amendment will be completely ignored and the clock will be run down by another two weeks before the issue returns to parliament.
But it is worse than that.
Labour’s continuing stance that of getting a better deal than May can keeps it firmly in the Brexit camp despite the overwhelming view of LP members to end the whole disastrous process and put the issue back to the people in a second referendum – which remains the only alternative to some form of Brexit.
Any illusions that Brexit would provide opportunities for an incoming Labour Government should be disregarded. A Labour government would be saddled with the chaos and a far-right upsurge that such a Brexit would generate and taking a new government to the left under such difficulties would be fraught with problems. It is true that a crash out would seriously damage the Tory Party but that does not mean that it would damage the right. In fact, it could lead to a reshaping of right-wing forces to the right of the Tory Party.