Theresa May set a date for her final Brexit showdown, promising to bring her deal back to Parliament at the start of June. Talks with the opposition Labour Party haven’t yielded an agreement, but she’s hoping members of Parliament, stung by voter revolts, will back her in order to end the process that’s tearing both main parties apart.
“It’s time for Parliament to make a decision,” Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay told the BBC. ‘‘The country needs to move forward. Business needs to have certainty.’’
In reality, May has run out of options. She opened talks with Labour seven weeks ago, arguing that nothing else had worked. Her Conservative Party was furious. But the talks didn’t deliver a breakthrough, and it was never clear that they could deliver a majority.
The next stage of May’s plan, as it was announced in April, was moving to a series of indicative votes if the talks failed. That appears to have been shelved.
Instead, the week of June 3, while President Trump is in the UK on a state visit, she’ll put before Parliament the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which would write her deal into law. The government said this was ‘‘imperative’’ if the bill was to pass before Parliament goes on vacation in July.
The WAB, as it’s known, has been repeatedly postponed since last year, as May has tried to find a majority in Parliament for her deal. She has failed three times to get the House of Commons to support it. Some Conservatives, and her allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, oppose it because of the ‘‘Irish backstop’’ section that deals with Northern Ireland’s border.
If the bill is defeated, May can’t bring it back again without ending this parliamentary session and starting a new one, which would require a review of the confidence-and-supply agreement with the DUP that props up her minority government. It would also raise the prospect of defeat on votes on the government’s legislative program. In reality, it would almost certainly mean a new prime minister.
May set out her plan to Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn in a meeting in Parliament on Tuesday evening. He told her that Labour wouldn’t back the bill without a formal agreement, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
According to a Labour statement, Corbyn “raised doubts over the credibility of government commitments, following statements by Conservative MPs and Cabinet ministers seeking to replace the prime minister.” The government promised to bring back more proposals Wednesday, Labour said.
It’s very unlikely that the bill will pass without Labour support. The last time May asked Parliament to approve her deal, on March 29, it rejected it by 344 votes to 286. On that occasion, even though key Brexit supporters including Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg gave in and voted with her, 34 other Conservatives still held out and voted against.
On Wednesday, Owen Paterson, a Tory opposing May’s deal, said he would not back the bill when it is introduced, demonstrating she will once again struggle to secure the numbers to pass the legislation and may have to rely on Labour votes. Meanwhile the leader of the 11-strong Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, told BBC radio his support is contingent on a second referendum.
The DUP made clear that they weren’t shifting position. “What has changed?” asked its Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds. ‘‘Unless she can demonstrate something new that addresses the problem of the backstop, then it is highly likely her deal will go down to defeat once again.’’