Theresa May’s promise to resign isn’t just hollow — it’s virtually impossible

Now what?
Now what?
Image: Reuters TV
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In a meeting with Conservative members of Parliament this afternoon (March 27), UK prime minister Theresa May appeared to bow to the increasing pressure to resign. She promised to step down as leader and let someone else take over—if Parliament finally okayed her much-maligned Brexit deal.

Though the move was heralded by some as the only way to get hardline Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg to back her exit proposal, leveraging her own unpopularity to win votes is a curious tactic from May. What’s more, it’s hard to see how the maneuver could ever bear fruit. For the deal to pass with a simple majority, May would have to not only win over every Tory MP, but also a significant number of MPs from other parties.

Labour will not back the deal, citing concerns around workers’ rights, immigration law, and trade; the Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats and other minor parties are almost certain to follow suit. The Northern Irish DUP, with whom the Tories are in coalition, also seem unlikely to capitulate. Moreover, a number of pro-Brexit Tory MPs have vowed in colorful terms never to support the deal: MP Steve Baker described himself as “consumed with a ferocious rage” by May’s promise to resign in exchange for their votes, and threatened to “tear this place down and bulldoze it into the river.” (He is said to have received a standing ovation and rare hugs for the speech.)

All of this may be moot, however. There’s significant evidence to suggest that MPs of all stripes will not have the opportunity to vote on May’s deal for a third time, after the Speaker John Bercow ruled out a third vote on the same deal. Bercow, who dictates parliamentary procedure, has explicitly said that he will not permit MPs to voice their opinion on the vote again, unless May proposes some significant change to the deal itself. So far, it seems unlikely that the promise of her resignation would be enough to meet that bar, though she may hope that additional backstop guarantees now formally approved by the EU, as well as a change to the Brexit date, could finally sway him.

In the meantime, MPs this evening voted on eight “indicative” options for Brexit—meant to give the body some direction out of the thicket—including revoking Article 50; backing a “no deal” Brexit; and a version of Norway’s European Free Trade Association and European Economic Area membership model. Not one of the eight had a simple majority, though the three favored approaches were remaining part of the customs union, a second referendum, and Labour’s deal, which involves being part of the customs union and aligned with single market.

Tomorrow, Bercow said, MPs would be able to vote on these options yet again, hopefully bringing the British government closer to some kind of consensus. In the meantime, cooperation and concurrence seems all but impossible to reach, with May still in charge—for now.