Another crushing parliamentary defeat on Brexit for Theresa May

The British parliament today resoundingly defeated by a margin of 391 to 242 prime minister Theresa May’s revised plan for Brexit. The feeling seemed to be that the new deal did not significantly differ from the previous one that she lost by an even heavier margin. Apparently she had expected a loss but hoped to contain the margin of defeat to less than 50 so this has got to hurt. Again the main sticking point was the so-called ‘backstop’ on Northern Ireland.

She has now scheduled a vote tomorrow on whether to move ahead with a so-called ‘no-deal Brexit’ where the UK leaves with no plans and procedures for what happens after separation and the UK will have to unilaterally decide on everything. That will be a glorious mess with a long period of uncertainty and confusion. If that is rejected, then there will be a vote on Thursday on whether to ask the EU for an extension on the March 29 deadline for crashing out. It seems likely that the last option is what will be pass and the EU will likely agree to an extension but what purpose it will serve is not clear, The only thing it might do is give her more time to schedule a second referendum, where I am assuming that May has the authority to call for one without getting parliamentary approval first. She could also call for a general election but that would imperil her own already shaky hold on power.

So the UK lurches from one bad situation to another, a self-inflicted wound caused by former prime minister David Cameron’s ill-advised decision to call for a referendum on a highly emotive but extremely complicated issue that was totally unsuited as a referendum question because of all its ramifications, and May’s inability to even stanch the bleeding let alone heal the wound.


  1. deepak shetty says

    David Cameron’s ill-advised decision

    Im curious why you call it ill advised ? Is it because the options were not clear ?

  2. Matt G says

    I believe “ill-advised” is the euphemism Mano chose to use in place of “mind-numbingly stupid”. He will correct me if I’m wrong.

  3. ridana says

    I believe he called it ill-advised because it’s a a highly emotive but extremely complicated issue that was totally unsuited as a referendum question because of all its ramifications.

  4. xohjoh2n says

    May has neither the right to call for a referendum (something we rarely do, and something not enshrined in any customary or written constitutional law over here) nor to call a general election since the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. (Before the FTPA a Prime Minister could call the GE whenever they liked, whenever was most politically beneficial to them.) Both require a specific Act to be passed.

    The former must be passed by regular parliamentary rules. Commons and Lords.

    The latter either by a no-confidence motion in the Commons which does not result in a new government within 14 days, or by a fixed majority of two-thirds of MPs in the Commons (including the non-sitting Sinn Fein and absences, so you have to do substantially better in practice) only. The latter being how it was done in 2017, which resulted in May’s disastrous (for her, I wanted more) loss of majority. The former being extremely unlikely because although few want the Deal, none of any faction of tory+DUP coalition want to risk a Labour win so will continue to win confidence motions.

    (And, of course, we’ve already used the FTPA get-out once since 2015, so if she even tried it it would be using the same get-out to defeat the FTPA effectively twice within the same fixed term. I think even most hard-core party-above-law Tories would flinch at that.)

  5. Mano Singham says

    deepak @#1,

    What ridana @3 said. The implications of what Brexit would mean were not clearly thought through until after the referendum held.

    xohjoh2n @#4,

    Thanks for the explanation. May seems to be in an impossible situation.

  6. xohjoh2n says


    And you’ve gotta believe that that is exactly what the eurosceptics intended all along.

    (I was surprised tonight to see the headline “No-deal Brexit still possible even if MPs vote against it – ERG”. Not because it’s not true. It is. The ERG know it. We know it. We know the ERG know it. I was just surprised that the ERG would actually come out and say it so brazenly since I thought their basic game plan was to let all the other factions block each other and get no-deal by default and only intervene if it looked like a workable coalition against no-deal was forming.Which doesn’t appear to be happening yet…)


    All Prime Ministers are of course bad Prime Ministers. But they are all bad in their own peculiar ways. Cameron’s was to be wishy-washy and flap whichever way the wind closest to him was blowing, then be astonished that the wind slightly further away was blowing strongly in the opposite direction and so have to flap the other way as soon as that became obvious. Which kind of how we got into this mess in the first place. (It helped that someone was standing next to him with a great big electric fan at the time.)

    May’s is to be intransigent beyond all reason, for far longer than is reasonable. (I mean, ex-Home Sec with seriously bad policies there, but you get to expect that from a Home Sec. But she will not budge from them even now, out of the office.) So a lot of her current difficulty is self-inflicted. I’m undecided whether some kind of policy movement would be bad for her -- it is said that it could trigger a successful leadership coup from the ERG or similar side of the tory party, but there are enough on the other side that I don’t think it’s a given. But she appears to be incapable of even considering the possibility.

  7. file thirteen says

    lol ridana #3, precisely.

    Cameron was also mind-numbingly… er, ill-advised, because not only did his mistake cost him the prime ministership, it has now become his legacy.

    And the train wrexit continues. Businesses may be livid, but the majority of MPs are happy about today’s result.
    Remainers are happy because, second referendum
    The ERG are happy because, no-deal
    Labour are happy because, election
    Most everyone is hanging out in hope for their preferred option, and few have been convinced enough to be fearful enough of the opposite to support May. No wonder it failed.

    What next? My not-so-fearless predictions (ie. be appropriately skeptical):

    -- MPs will vote against a no-deal Brexit (again, which won’t stop it happening by accident or mismanagement, which is the ERG plan as xohjoh2n pointed out above)

    -- there won’t be enough support to raise a second no-confidence vote against May (Tories know that her losing it would result in an election, which they would lose)

    -- there will be lots of arguing about the length of a possible extension, but eventually MPs (except no-deal MPs) will come together to pass a vote on an extension

    -- the EU won’t approve the extension as voted. It has to be unanimous, and some countries are completely fed up with UK arrogance. Instead, the EU will come back with a take-it-or-leave it extension with binding conditions attached

    -- The UK will react with disbelief and the ERG will rub their hands with glee

    -- there will NOT be another referendum (the Tories know that that the public would vote remain and, again, they’d lose the next election)

    -- at the last possible moment when no-deal looks inevitable, May will get confirmation from the EU that they will be granted an extension if the UK votes to accept her, twice rejected, deal. The deal will be offered again, and this time will be accepted

    -- the ERG will be livid

    -- May will spin this as a victory, but her days will be numbered. She will resign before the end of the year

    -- the Tories will lose the next election

    -- Within two years, Scotland will vote via referendum to leave the UK and join the EU.

  8. says

    My guesses for the future:
    * Commons votes against no-deal
    * Commons votes for an extension to article 50
    * EU refuses an extension without a cast-iron guarantee of a decision within the extension period.
    * Since the government can’t guarantee to get any such vote through this Parliament, this guarantee would require a promise of a binding referendum.

    So I think we’ll see a second referendum. The fly in the referendum ointment is the amount of time it would take to organise. A minimum of 21 weeks, apparently, which would take us well past the start of the new EU Parliament. But given that Parliament made the rules that make holding a referendum so long, they could change them. I don’t see why would we couldn’t have a referendum some time in May. Since we have local government elections scheduled for 2nd May, perhaps even then -- two weeks to pass the emergency legislation through Parliament, two (mercifully short) weeks of campaigning, and the bonus of the best turn-out for local elections ever. 🙂

  9. file thirteen says

    MPs will vote against a no-deal Brexit

    And they did, but it was a lot closer than I expected: 312 to 308. I hadn’t thought May would whip MPs to vote the other way

  10. file thirteen says

    My mistake, they were voting on the Spelman amendment to the motion, not the motion itself

  11. file thirteen says

    However now that the amendment to the motion is passed, requiring the government to try to avoid a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances if the motion is passed, May is now whipping Tories to vote against her own motion. Ludicrous.

  12. file thirteen says

    But the motion is carried anyway, 321 to 278. Must have been at least 20 abstentions.

  13. deepak shetty says

    ridana@3 and Mano@5
    Isnt this true of most elections? (barring the current US president where it was mostly clear what we were getting). Even if the referendum didnt happen , Britain was always becoming more anti-EU so in a way the breakup was inevitable. You can see that even now -- a majority of people who voted leave still think they were right and its not at all clear that a new referendum would give a different result.

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