Theresa May’s Tuesday night speech shows her preference is still to avoid a no-deal Brexit

If the sitting Prime Minister wanted to pursue no deal, she could simply prorogue parliament and wait until 12 April.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to find the votes I need to leave the European Union. That's the essence of Theresa May's message to Jeremy Corbyn.

The PM used her speech outside Downing Street to urge the Labour leader to work with her to pass a Brexit deal. She has promised to work with him to put a way forward together and then put it to parliament. Her big plan is a combined arrangement to deliver Brexit, agreed between her and the Labour leader.

How seriously should we take it? Well, there are two answers to that. On the one hand, anyone who trusts a word that comes out of the Prime Minister at this point is cordially invited to transfer £1,000 to my bank account in order to buy their nearest bridge. May is the same person who promised Conservative MPs in marginal she wouldn't risk their seats with an early election and then went to the country the second that parliament refused to pass something. This is the Home Secretary who claimed that someone couldn't be deported because they had a cat. This is the MP who voted against the creation of the Welsh Assembly and claimed that no one had opposed devolution after the referendum.

On the other hand, the important thing isn't what May is saying but what she isn't saying. If the sitting Prime Minister wanted to pursue no deal, they could simply prorogue parliament and wait until 12 April. What May's big offer to Corbyn reveals is that her first preference is to avoid a no-deal exit. Whether the end result of that is a prolonged extension or a soft Brexit, that May has shown her hand means that MPs will feel relaxed in voting for their preferred Brexit end state, free of any fear of a no-deal exit. 

It means that what May is seeking – a long extension including European elections – is likely to result in exactly that: a prolonged stay in the institutions of the EU, until one side or another, be it Jeremy Corbyn or whichever Conservative emerges as May's successor can win a decisive victory and implement Brexit on their own terms.

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.

Free trial CSS