Each new vote in the British House of Commons only reaffirms parliament’s paralysis. Yesterday MPs voted against the prospect of a no-deal Brexit – but then voted against any alternative that would avoid this default option. A deeply divided Tory party briefly united – but only to demand the impossible of their leader. And Jeremy Corbyn, having failed to bring down the government through parliamentary means, saw his Brexit proposal (to include a customs union) rejected also. So where to go from here?
The result is that the Prime Minister has been forced to return to Brussels to reopen negotiations; in particular over the question of the ‘backstop’, which is hated in equal measure by Brexiteer Tories and their government partners, the DUP.
But EU leaders have already repeatedly declared that the backstop – an insurance policy to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland – is non-negotiable. In no uncertain terms, therefore, May has been politely told by Michel Barnier and co. to f**k off.
There have already been two years of negotiations between Britain and Europe. The result of this was May’s deal, which EU officials have affirmed is the best on offer. This, however, was thoroughly quashed by MPs in an historic defeat on 15 January.
In short, the only road acceptable to the Europeans has been rejected by parliament. And the only acceptable option for parliament has been ruled out by Europe. Again: stalemate.
Meanwhile, the Brexit clock keeps ticking. The 29 March deadline looms perilously ever closer.
It is evident that Theresa May has no Plan B. Or rather, that her Plan B is simply her Plan A, but with an extra dose of panic. The Prime Minister doggedly hopes that the approaching cliff-edge might still focus the minds and bring enough rebel Tories and Labour MPs over to her deal when it is next presented in the House of Commons, sometime in mid-February.
But the arch-Brexiteers are like lemmings, delighted at the prospect of hurtling themselves – and the country – into the abyss. Fanatical Remainers, meanwhile, are banking that the risk of a no-deal catastrophe could force May and Corbyn to back their call for a second referendum.
The ruling class is terrified that their worst nightmare could now happen, almost by accident, as a result of this high-stakes gambling on all sides. “Theresa May has hurled the nation into the most terrifying three-dimensional, multi-variant game of chicken,” states Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times.
But it seems that nobody is willing to blink first. Instead, Shimsley continues, we have “multiple players, all with their pedals still pressed to the floor, driving on different paths towards a collision in the middle, and in which any swerve to avoid one crash simply puts Mrs May in the path of another vehicle.”
Out of control
Alarm bells are therefore ringing loudly through the halls of Westminster and the City of London. Whilst big business and government officials are officially stepping up preparations for a no-deal exit, it is likely that an extension to Article 50 will be sought eventually. Although even this was rejected by parliament last night, with Tories and Labour MPs in leave-voting constituencies fearful of voting for anything that looks like a betrayal of Brexit.
The ruling class has completely lost control of the situation. Not so long ago, the establishment could bank on their reliable representatives, the Conservative Party, to defend their interests. But now the Tory leader is being held hostage by the jesters of the court.
Meanwhile, the ‘Second XI’ of the Labour Party is also no longer under their control. At a grassroots level, the party has been taken over by the Corbyn movement. And in the PLP, even the Blairites have gone rogue in pursuit of a second referendum.
Big business could accept May’s deal, given the relative certainty and stability it would provide. And normally the Labour right wing, when asked to jump, would have replied: how high? But instead the Blairites – including Tony Blair himself – are on a crusade over the prospect of a so-called ‘People’s Vote’.
After years of kicking the can down the road, Theresa May is now rapidly running out of tarmac. Everywhere she turns, a cul-de-sac confronts her. But eventually she will have to make a choice: go for a soft Brexit or a second referendum and break her party; or go for a no-deal option and break British capitalism.
And in reality, even the latter would split the Conservatives, with Tory Remainers refusing to allow a chaotic no-deal to happen. Whatever path the ruling class pursues, therefore, leads to ruin. Political instability, social turbulence, and economic crises await. The status quo has broken down. The system is at an impasse.
Only a general election and the coming to power of a socialist Labour government can offer a way forward.