“As Prime Minister, I am not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30th June.” Remember that? Those were the words spoken by Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions on March 20th, just three weeks ago. I know because I wrote them down. But of course, that was just one in a very, very, very long line of bare-faced lies. In the early hours of this morning, she accepted the EU’s latest proposal of a six-month extension to Article 50, delaying Brexit until October 31st. Yes, on Halloween, because this whole process had to become even more farcical.
Rather than show some humility, shift her red lines, make a real offer to step down, or do literally anything that might be expected from a reasonable person at this point, May is still blaming MPs who won’t vote for her deal. The EU has warned us not to waste this extra time, yet that is precisely what looks most likely. The appearances of John McDonnell and Jeremy Hunt on ITV’s Peston last night made clear that neither side is positive about the prospect of reaching agreement, and certainly not before May 22nd (as the PM still claims is possible).
Call it ambiguity or indecision if you like, the fact that Labour is genuinely ready to compromise should be recognised and applauded. The leadership is only ruling out no deal (now averted on Friday) and May’s deal in its current form; it would accept a softer deal, a general election or another referendum. Labour backbenchers intent on approving only a public vote were uncompromising in the indicative votes process, much to my personal frustration, but there are no two ways about it: the deadlock is due to this government, which is no longer functioning.
Recent polls have shown an increase in support for Labour, now at 40%, and the Tories are terrified of entering a general election without having delivered on the 2016 referendum result. Unfortunately, their self-awareness makes it even less likely that an early vote can take place, and the DUP won’t withdraw support unless a (backstop) deal passes. Pressure for May to go will rise, as many Tory MPs have already publicly said. It is unclear, though, how they can oust her. Whatever happens, it’s not unjustified for those of us in Labour to watch the Conservative Party tear itself apart even more ferociously over the next few weeks and months.
There are upsides for Labour in all scenarios: either the government compromises, ta-da we have our version of Brexit and the Tories split further; or it doesn’t, European elections (that we’re set to do well in) are held, the Conservatives implode whether May clings on or not. Most importantly of all, a long extension means Easter recess is on! Like everyone in Westminster, I am incredibly grateful. The LabourList morning email will pause from today and return when MPs are back on 23rd April. We’ll still be publishing comment pieces and essential news stories, so keep visiting the site. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.