Theresa May repeats herself as the United Kingdom gets closer to a catastrophic Brexit

Time is running out and the Prime Minister just repeats herself.

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It’s difficult to see how Theresa May’s statement to the House of Commons today was any different from her last, other than the fact that Jeremy Corbyn’s delivery of his response was a lot better.

Anyone who had had the privilege – or should that be misfortune? – to sit in on May’s last statement could have joined in with the chorus: most of the Brexit negotiations are in place, there’s just the little matter of the Irish border. No British Prime Minister could ever agree to the backstop in its current form, etc. No-one is envisaging an extension of the implementation period.  

The problem of course is that May’s words make it harder, not easier, to see how a deal can be reached. Only a backstop without a time limit can pass muster with the Irish government – only a time-limited UK-wide backstop can pass muster with the Tory party. Chequers isn’t close enough to the European Union to secure sufficient Labour support to pass the Commons. Nothing has changed, to coin a phrase.

Then Corbyn did his greatest hits package: the Conservatives are too divided to reach agreement, they’ve spent two years negotiating with themselves, that the Irish border was an issue should have been obvious to all involved, all of which is true and frankly given that May had delivered the same speech, it is difficult to see what else he could do but give the same response.

The big problem is that while anyone watching the exchanges in Parliament might be left thinking that nothing has changed, something has changed: we are one week closer to the United Kingdom leaving without a deal on 29 March 2019.

The urgent question is what is going to knock the Brexit process out of its endless loop, secure a deal that can pass Parliament and prevent a disruptive exit from the European Union? We’re no closer to finding an answer.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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