Another day, another non-statement on Brexit from Theresa May. As the UK barrels towards a no-deal (there are seriously only *45 days* until we are due to leave the EU), the prime minister once again tried to reassure us that nothing has changed. Everything is fine. Her Brexit deal will get through parliament at some point, some way. Nothing to see here.
Asking the very same MPs who just a month ago brutally rejected her plan to leave the EU, May said on Tuesday talks are at a “crucial stage”. She said we all need to “hold our nerve” to get the changes through on a revised deal, despite the fact the EU has insisted it will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn accused her of “recklessly running down the clock” in order to “blackmail” MPs into backing her deal.
Feel like you’ve got deja vu? Feel like this might all have happened before? Well, it has.
Here are just a few of the times on the white-knuckle Brexit ride of recent months that May has insisted nothing has changed…
No-Confidence Vote In Theresa May – December
It may seem like a lifetime ago, but it is in fact just two months since the PM faced a secret confidence ballot by her own party to determine whether she should continue to be Tory leader.
Sparked by the European Research Group, a group of ardent Brexiteers led by backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg, it was a direct attack on May and her Brexit deal – specifically the backstop clause to prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Winning the confidence ballot 200 votes to 117, May acknowledged that a “significant number” of Conservatives had voted against her. But that wasn’t enough to get her to change her plan for leaving the EU – or stay away from some of her favourite lines on Brexit.
“We need to get on with the job of delivering Brexit for the British people and building a better future for this country,” she said on the steps of Downing Street in the wake of the result, a huge Christmas tree in the background failing to add much festive cheer to the occasion.
“A Brexit that delivers on the vote that people gave, that brings back control of our money, our borders and our laws.”
Fair enough. What’s an attempted coup in the grand scheme of things? Best not to do anything too drastic in response.
Historic Brexit Vote Defeat – January
It was a historic moment in parliament – the night MPs, many of them from May’s own party, dealt the PM and her Brexit deal a defeat so severe a sitting government had never before experienced such a loss.
MPs voted 432 votes to 202 to reject the deal, which set out the terms of the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Even May – who had shelved the vote at the time of its originally planned December date – could not pretend the loss was minor, agreeing to give parliament time to debate its confidence in the government the next day.
But it came on the back of some serious head-in-the-sand tactics from the Tory leader. Despite admitting in December she would have lost the meaningful vote if it had gone ahead, it was reported at the time of the January Brexit ballot that May hoped assurances from EU leaders over the controversial Irish backstop might be enough to help garner more support.
Let’s hope the prime minister isn’t a gambling woman.
Confidence Vote In The Government – January
What a week for the prime minister and her team. Just hours after her Brexit deal was decimated in the Commons, May and the Conservatives faced a confidence vote tabled by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. (A pretty bad few days in the office, as far as things go.)
Luckily for May, the Tory’s confidence-and-supply partners the DUP had her back, helping her avoid a chain of events that could have led to a general election (only 306 MPs said they had no confidence in the government, versus 325 in favour of the party).
But, seemingly buoyed by her victory, the PM appeared to be back to her old ways. Though she did concede she would start to talk to other parties about potential Brexit solutions (what an idea, eh?), May told the Commons in the wake of her victory: “I am pleased that this House has expressed its confidence in the government.
“I do not take the responsibility lightly and my government will continue its work to increase our prosperity, guarantee our safety and to strengthen our union.
“And yes, we will also continue to work to deliver the solemn promise we made to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union.”
It’s not fair to say May’s Brexit strategy has remained completely unchanged in the face of all the drama. At the end of January, the government backed an amendment from Tory backbencher Sir Graham Brady calling for the Irish backstop to be replaced by “alternative arrangements”.
With MPs backing the amendment in a tight 317 to 301 vote, May agreed to go back to Brussels and attempt to renegotiate the thorny issue.
But how are her talks with the EU actually going? Are we any closer to getting rid of the backstop?
Short answer: not really. Among his controversial comments about Brexiteers and hell at a press conference last week, European Council president Donald Tusk made it clear the Irish backstop would not be removed from the withdrawal agreement and that all sides must prepare for a “fiasco” no-deal Brexit. (Eek.)
Meanwhile, Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar reportedly quashed May’s hopes of renegotiating the clause over dinner in Dublin on Friday night, telling Sky News he only wanted to “restore confidence and trust” at the meeting. Ouch.
On Thursday, MPs will debate a motion about the UK’s departure from the EU, with parliamentarians set to table Brexit amendments on Wednesday.
Among the suggestions is an amendment from Labour MP Richard Godsiff, calling for a second referendum if May is not able to come to a deal backed by parliament.