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Our View: May won a reprieve but there are not many options open to her

Theresa May

BRITAIN’S beleaguered Prime Minister Theresa May survived Wednesday night’s confidence vote, as had been widely expected, but this neither strengthened her position nor raised the faintest hope there could be a way out of the Brexit maze she is trapped in. If anything, Wednesday’s vote highlighted the chaotically confused sate of British politics. Twenty-four hours earlier, May suffered the biggest ever defeat handed to a prime minister by parliament over a key policy issue, her Brexit deal rejected by an astounding 230 votes.

Despite the resounding defeat of her Brexit deal – the policy she had been working on for the last two-and-a-half years – Parliament backed her to remain prime minister because Conservative MPs did not want a general election that could open the door of 10 Downing Street to an old school socialist like Jeremy Corbyn. May won a reprieve but there are not many options open to her. After the confidence vote, she said she would embark on consultations with MPs “with the widest possible range of views,” her intention being to persuade MPs to “act in the national interest, reach a consensus and get this done.”

Consultations and consensus with other parties have been left too late. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has not given up on forcing another election and hinted at another motion of no confidence in the government, said he would not meet the PM unless a no-deal Brexit was removed from the table. A Scottish National Party MP said the SNP would take part in cross-party talks on condition that extension of article 50 and new referendum were part of the discussion; he also wanted a no-deal Brexit ruled out, which seems the only option that could secure a parliamentary majority.

Meanwhile, the EU’s top officials have rejected the idea of changes to the deal agreed with May, at least for now, something that makes consultations with opposition parties, with a view to modifying the deal, appear pointless. In fact, the PM may have doomed her initiative to failure by indicating she would stick to her red lines. This inflexibility, which is the main reason for her predicament, may please the hard-line Brexiteers of her party, but is unlikely to win cross-party support for a new plan or persuade Brussels to re-open talks.

Next week May is due to present her Plan B to parliament, but there is no indication what it will consist of. A guess is that it might be a proposal for an extension of article 50 which Brussels will not object to. This might secure majority support in Parliament, but it will only prolong the uncertainty without any guarantee of finding an acceptable solution by the end of a new deadline. Perhaps the people’s vote that remainers have been calling for and Corbyn grudgingly said he would support if he failed to force a general election, will become the only option.

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