Groundhog May Day

Groundhog May Day


It might be the official Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania a week on Saturday, but Theresa May has spent the last week doing her best Bill Murray impression ahead of next Tuesday’s vote, when her Brexit deal returns to the Commons for another go. Nothing. Has. Changed.

One would have thought that, after the shock of suffering the biggest Commons defeat for a sitting government in modern times, May would have at least attempted to conjure up some pretty large fig leaves for those on both sides of the fence. She has not. Despite opening the doors of 10 Downing Street to senior politicians of all shapes and colours, her red lines have not budged. Plan B is still Plan A with a wafer thin veneer of conciliatory reassurances on the backstop.

It’s not surprising then that, unlike last week, few are actually focussing on the deal itself, but instead on the alternative amendments coming forward from all-and-sundry.

Amendments are still coming in, but at the time of writing the one with the best chance of winning the support of the House appears to be that tabled by Yvette Cooper, who proposes that if no deal is reached by the end of February then Brexit should be delayed until the end of the year, thereby eliminating the chance of leaving with no deal on 29 March. Labour has indicated it will whip in favour of the Cooper amendment and a number of Conservatives have also shown support for it, giving it a fighting chance of being approved on Tuesday night.

In a sign of the remarkable times, few people are talking about the official Labour amendment tabled by the Leader of the Opposition which normally ought to be the one with the best chance of success. After more than two and half years on the fence, the Labour amendment does actually nail the party down to supporting a permanent customs union with the EU, as well as a close relationship with the single market. But in a confusing second clause, Labour appear to propose that any agreement reached in Parliament should be put to a referendum. Whether it would be posited against Remain, no deal Brexit or whatever else is left unstated, and the party has singularly failed to clarify the question since the amendment was tabled. Anyone would think Jeremy Corbyn wanted to come up with an amendment that wouldn’t get through? By obfuscating he can keep his fingerprints off any unpopular decision, and then bellow from the sidelines when the Tory-driven car hits the wall.

Too often we have forecasted decisive weeks, and too often we’ve been disappointed. This time however, no-one has high hopes. Maybe with expectations set as low as an adders belly, real progress might be made this time. With 63 days to go, we certainly need it.