THE GLACIAL PACE OF BRITISH SELF-DESTRUCTION
Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Bill was defeated by over 220 votes, the largest defeat suffered by a British government in the country's long and varied history. But does it change anything? What happens next?
Labour and Corbyn has table a NO CONFIDENCE motion against Theresa May and the Conservative government. They'll be supported by all the other parties except the DUP. If the government lose, there will be a new government; and this means general election. 118 Conservative MPs voted against the government in the EU Withdrawal Bill, as did the DUP.
Despite voting against the govt in the EU withdrawal bill, the DUP will keep their meal ticket going for as long as possible. Unless by voting with the govt, they'll be voting a separation of the UK and Northern Ireland they'll never vote against Theresa May. Why would they? The DUP will vote in support of Theresa May.
No Confidence in Theresa May will only go through therefore if there's at least 12 Tories who vote against their own party. This is unlikely. Nothing has suggested to date there's any change of heart from Conservative MPs. There’s no indication the government won’t be supported by all their own MPs and the DUP; and this the NO CONFIDENCE motion will fail.
Plenty of Conservatives (and the DUP) will vote against Theresa May for pro-EU or Brexiteer reasons but thanks to the Fixed Term Act 2011, governments get to have their cake and eat it. Before this Act it was possible for major votes in Parliament to be made a “matter of confidence” by the government or the opposition. In the case of the EU Withdrawal bill being a “matter of confidence” would have broken the deadlock by forcing the DUP to either honour the government and thus support the bill, or honour their principles and vote against the government - thus bringing down the government in the event the bill was defeated.
Nowadays it's perfectly possible to have a Government defeated by its own party (or its coalition to break down completely in everyday legislative capacity) and lose every single vote before Parliament - in effect crippling the business of Government entirely - while still being kept in position by those who’re no longer voting with them on anything else. Legally, the DUP could vote against the Conservatives in every single division on Tory policy yet support them in NO CONFIDENCE motions. So much for the “supply” part of “confidence and supply” as this is what's happening with the Tory-DUP coalition and the EU - fundamentally in opposition over Britain’s future (Brexit) but united by self-interest to cling on to power.
WHAT HAPPENS BETWEEN JANUARY 1st 2019 and MARCH 29th 2019 (BREXIT DAY)?
Labour tables no confidence but without finding enough Tories prepared to bring down their own party, it will fall.
Theresa May winning the no confidence will partly rollback the loss of mandate after the EU Withdrawal defeat.
Theresa May must bring back an alternative deal in 3 business days. It will not do anything except invite cross party time wasting, trying to rope the other parties into the pipedream of a new deal to lay before the EU. This won't be possible any more than it was last year.
No EU credible deal will satisfy the DUP, so while the DUP are part of govt, no deal is possible unless the EU and Ireland give way on the backstop. The backstop would need to be legally time limited and/or adjusted so as to satisfy the DUP. It’s possible but unlikely the government will bribe the DUP to be flexible - and this they will try - but it’s unlikely to nudge the DUP into accepting a possibly open-ended separation from the rest of the UK and an eventual slide into union with Eire.
The only way to get any deal through will be to get a majority on board. Given the 220+ defeat margin this isn't likely with or without the DUP turning back to the government. But the government managed to win the “no confidence” vote so clearly there’s wiggle room. If the DUP vote against the government, their deals are sunk. If 10 Conservative MPs vote against the government doesn’t matter what the DUP do, the deals are sunk.
What happens if March 29th is reached without agreement is anyone's guess. There's no rules defining what must and what must not happen. Trade could be formally affected but it might as likely be left untouched.
Theresa May will mess around for a month playing cross-party games, hoping to either cast Labour as the problem or else partly culpable for the outcome.
The March 29th date will be extended a few months.
[added 25-Jan: Yvette Cooper bill focuses on this but it must be agreed by all 27 EU member states]
May won't reach consensus and will remain at the mercy of the Brexiteers, the DUP block and the anti-Brexit Tories. These three groups have fundamentally incompatible and contradictory with the EU. No way to bridge that.
Brexiteers will be happier to suffer the NO DEAL disruption as it ends free movement and all the non-frontline trade benefits of the UK/EU partnership will be no more. It’ll make Brexit de facto. DUP will be hapy with NO DEAL as they don’t fear a hard border on Ireland. It’s only the anti-Brexit and pro-business Conservatives who’re going to be unhappy but unless 12+ of them actively push “no confidence” in the government, they’ll have no impact on the NO DEAL result.
The most likely outcome, if there’s no extension to the March 29th Brexit date, is NO DEAL. This will by necessity precipitate thousands of best-guess paper-over-the-cracks mini agreements, to keep things flowing, but this will be an unruly chaos not fit to be collected into a decent compromise agreement. All sides will lose.
EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU will remain in limbo, downgraded citizens. Many EU countries are taking the opportunity to be generous to the British citizens living on the continent but so many questions remain unanswered unless those ex-pats simply take the opportunity to swap passports.
Nothing need dislodge the May govt. They can hang on in a state of useless impotence until 2022 while deadlines pass and everything that must be dealt with, in terms of practical business UK and EU, will be patched over, to nobody's benefit.
Unless some of the sitting Conservatives are prepared to stand up for country over party, the UK will drift into no deal, botch job relations and a degrading global position that compromises its economy and its future integrity with the tedious, inexorable certainty of a glacier.