Soul-searching looms on Brexit again

Editorial | Mary Ma 14 Mar 2019

After British members of parliament cast the meaningless vote to reject the modified Brexit package on Tuesday, business for the rest of the week is rather straightforward: a near foregone conclusion for House of Commons to vote against a no-deal Brexit yesterday, and for a Brexit postponement later today.

The tricky thing is what might happen next.

Prime Minister Theresa May's leadership has been significantly eroded following two major setbacks - although the margin of Tuesday's defeat narrowed remarkably to 149 votes from 230 in January.

An estimated 75 Tory MPs voted against the modified deal.

These Conservatives were hard Brexiteers. While they were a formidable force in tilting the balance in the vote, they're nevertheless not potent enough to get a no-deal Brexit passed.

Ironically, their success in blocking the deal didn't necessarily bode well for their cause, since the odds will likely change in the Remainers' favor in the days to come.

May has been openly opposed to the idea of a second referendum until Tuesday's embarrassing, though less humiliating, vote. She made a good point when she told opposing MPs that voting against leaving without a deal and for an extension of the Brexit process wouldn't solve the problem unless MPs knows what it wants to make use of that extension.

"Does it wish to revoke Article 50? Does it want to hold a second referendum? Or does it want to leave with a deal, but not this deal?"

As she spoke the three words "a second referendum," a revealing chorus of "yeas" erupted in the House.

Everyone should know that while the notion of leaving with a deal but not this deal sounds great, it isn't practical. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed yet again that he could negotiate a deal to have the best of both worlds. That isn't going to happen since, before he could start a new negotiation, a general election would have to be called - and he must win it.

While Corbyn is free to sound ambitious, he's equally free to daydream too.

A second referendum is now on the table after the meaningless votes of this week.

But the same question is bound to arise as the country moves toward a second referendum.

Do MPs know what to ask the British public to vote for?

Is it a referendum to turn the ship around to remain in the European Union?

Or a referendum to vote on May's package?

Should it be the latter, it would be a moment of vindication for May after all the humbling in parliament.

However, the problem before the divided nation is, while each party knows what they don't like, few know what they want exactly.

Time isn't on the British side even if Commons votes for an extension of the Brexit process. The European Parliament is up for election this year, and the EU leadership is due to be changed too. Would the EU be too preoccupied to bother with the British then?

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