On Tuesday a resounding defeat, on Wednesday an eked-out victory. The no-confidence motion to oust Theresa May was defeated 306 to 325, by a majority of 19: the “dirty dozen” of the DUP saved May’s skin again. She has been generously rewarding the Northern Ireland party in order to keep her government afloat after the catastrophic early elections of 2017. For now, May will continue on as Prime Minister.
But what is she going to accomplish, exactly? “I will continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union,” she said—which, translated into plain political language, simply means that she will continue the futile consultations centered around the embalmed corpse of her draft agreement with the EU, which died on Tuesday in an overwhelming defeat in the House of Commons. In such conditions, there is simply no room for maneuver, with appallingly little margin for a turnaround. The lingering questions surrounding the Irish backstop, the possible second referendum or the risk of a “hard” Brexit are too controversial and divisive for any progress to be made.
After a full day of debate on Wednesday (and a particularly shameless pro-May speech by Michael Gove, Boris Johnson’s former sidekick, who ruthlessly sabotaged the latter’s leadership ambitions and is now reduced to the position of May’s attack dog), the Parliament finally voted on the no-confidence motion introduced on Tuesday evening by Jeremy Corbyn after the catastrophic defeat of the government on the draft Brexit deal. Where things stood became clear on Wednesday morning: the fear of a Labour government—an authentic one, not one run by the gaggle of advertising executives that the party had recently become—seemed to be haunting Westminster again, overshadowing, for the moment, the Brexit elephant in the room.
In presenting the no-confidence motion, Corbyn did nothing more than keep the promise contained in his party’s manifesto, published at their latest congress.
The party’s main objective is to force early elections, and the leader has been fully consistent in pursuing this goal. Simply put, the numbers weren’t there to make it happen. But there may be other no-confidence motions in the future, which will be put forward at the next available opportunity. Corbyn answered May’s invitation to dialogue with the demand that, first of all, the possibility of a no-deal Brexit should be completely taken off the table (which May stated Thursday, in a written reply, that she would not do).
Calling someone a “zombie” is not a very high-minded or subtle insult, and Corbyn had never used such words before—but when he called May’s government a “zombie government” Wednesday, the Labour leader was doing nothing more than dutifully stating the facts. May’s team, endlessly shambling forward, full of mediocre figures stumbling without any coherent direction, truly recalled the walking dead after their draft agreement for the country’s exit from the EU was voted down by a margin of 230 votes in what will be remembered as the most humiliating defeat for a sitting British executive at the hands of Parliament since the Magna Carta (if we may put it that way).
And yet, the undead are still shuffling forward threateningly, and neither bullets nor flamethrowers seem to be able to stop them. After swallowing the bitter pill of countless humiliations, Theresa May is still at her post. Did it cross her mind to do the honorable thing and resign? Let’s be serious—that was never going to happen. She knew Corbyn wouldn’t manage to get the numbers to finally send her off to write her memoir, as ousted British politicians still stubbornly insist on doing (except for David Cameron, who, understandably, is waiting for the self-inflicted wound of the referendum to heal somewhat). She also knew that the arch-Brexiters of the ERG—the Eurosceptic gang led by Rees-Mogg and his crew—and the ten House members from Northern Ireland’s DUP would all come to her rescue, even after they had heaped insults on her just a day before. She could count on the DUP, in particular, because otherwise they would lose the generous funding they had been promised in exchange for propping up May’s government.
To put it plainly, nobody could stomach the possibility of a government led by Corbyn, which could actually start dismantling the greedy and iniquitous neoliberalism for which both the Tories and the Labour establishment are equally responsible.
This is the ultimate reason why the current situation remains a stalemate with no way out, with just 71 days to go until Brexit day, while Brussels can only express their sadness at the situation and look on in silence. Otherwise, the message coming from the EU side is the same as before: there is no point to even consider any substantial changes to May’s draft agreement, the result of two years of effort, especially as the Union has other problems to deal with. In all this turmoil, the only thing which is a near certainty at this point is an extension to the Article 50 deadline—unless the Prime Minister, holding on to power by the skin of her teeth, will somehow put together an unlikely “plan B” as early as next week. Meanwhile, Westminster keeps eyeing the Brexit mirage—like a moth to a flame.
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