Happy Christmas (War Is Deferred). In a move that will surprise few but exasperate many more, Downing Street has confirmed that the meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal will not take place this side of the festive period.
That MPs would not get to pass judgement on the deal until January at the earliest has been obvious since the Prime Minister pulled the vote on Monday. Since then May has stressed a deadline of 21 January, while this morning Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, revealed next week’s parliamentary business – with no meaningful vote in sight. Its delay until 2019 was confirmed by a spokesperson for May this afternoon.
The Times reported this morning that several Remain-leaning cabinet ministers – namely Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, David Lidington, Greg Clark and Amber Rudd – had been pushing for May to put the withdrawal agreement before the Commons as early as next week before holding a series of non-binding votes on alternative solutions.
The Prime Minister’s fruitless attempts to wring a compromise on the backstop from Brussels – and promise to win back the DUP before seeking parliamentary approval for her deal – have made that impossible and a delay inevitable. Not only will that disappoint her cabinet: it also denies Conservative rebels and the Labour leader the moment of catharsis many in government suspect will be necessary before any solution to the impasse might be brokered. The fact that the Prime Minister has not been able to extract anything resembling compromise from Brussels in time to hold a vote before Christmas also augurs badly.
There is also a more pressing practical point. Even if the Prime Minister brings forward a withdrawal agreement for which there is a parliamentary majority by the arbitrary, rather than legal, deadline of 21 January – which she won’t, and on last night’s evidence can’t – there is unlikely to be enough parliamentary time to pass the legislation needed to bring it into domestic law before Brexit day. (Nikki da Costa, her former head of legislative affairs, explains why here.)
And in the more likely event that she does not, instead triggering the messy confrontation she has deferred, then two options remain: extending Article 50, or leaving by default without a deal.