The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Theresa May is making a concerted effort to get her divided party and other supporters behind her Brexit withdrawal proposal, which she intends to bring back to the House of Commons for a third vote on Friday, 29 March.
Following another dramatic day in the Brexit universe on 27 March, the cosmic clouds of dust are beginning to swirl and coalesce into something that could soon look like a Brexit strategy. Maybe.
Parliament debated up to 16 different alternative Brexit proposals and voted on eight of them; not one gained a majority of votes. Conservative ministers pointed to the process, saying that it was flawed and that it showed that Members of Parliament (MPs) are divided. They concluded that the only way forward is May’s deal and again urged MPs to back May’s Withdrawal Agreement.
MPs hit back, however, pointing out that reaching a consensus on the first day was never the objective. Instead, the votes indicated what kind of measures MPs would support and that would lead to a single proposal after a second day of debate and voting on Monday, 1 April.
Yet time is running out for May’s deal. The European Union (EU) has indicated that it must be approved by day’s end on 29 March for all the formalities to be carried out by 12 April. But there appears to be little chance of this happening even though May has succeeded in winning further converts from her own party.
Yesterday, May made an offer to resign as Prime Minister if her party’s Members of Parliament voted for her Brexit deal. That offer shifted some of the bigger opponents to the deal, but not in sufficient numbers. Former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and the chair of the European Research Group, Jacob Rees-Mogg, both indicated they could now support the May withdrawal deal.
Others are still vehemently opposed to the deal, with one backbench MP saying that if the whips “put a shotgun in my mouth, I still wouldn’t vote for that deal.” The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has also reiterated that it cannot back the deal without a change to the Irish backstop.
It is difficult to gauge how the votes in the House will fall. However, without the DUP, which currently props up May’s minority Government, it is unlikely that the deal will get through, unless May can convince Labour MPs to support her deal.
That too looks increasingly unlikely as May has split the withdrawal deal into two parts. The political declaration has been separated from the withdrawal element of the deal in an attempt to meet the Speaker of the House’s requirement that a motion must be substantially changed if it is to be returned for another vote.
Labour MPs are unhappy at this move as they consider it a blind Brexit. Keir Starmer, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, told a conference of British Chambers of Commerce today that the political declaration, a 26-page document indicating the nature of the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU, is not detailed enough and as such leaves the U.K. open to a “blind Brexit.” He went on to say that if May removes this element from the vote and then there is a leadership election in the Tory Party, that leaves the country open to the “blindest of Brexits” and that will give no clarity for businesses.
Clarity is not the only element required, however. The construction industry, like the logistics industry, is warning that it needs to secure workers for future projects.
Sarah Beale, Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Training Board, said, “Our most recent research shows that we will already need an additional 168,000 workers to meet the pipeline of projects in construction. On top of that, we need to secure the value of EU migrant labour that we currently use; that represents 15 percent of our overall workforce at the moment.”