Regardless of whether you agree with Theresa May’s politics or not, you cannot help but admire her resilience. Yesterday, however, the Prime Minister was a disappointment. Her eagerly awaited “Plan B” was exactly the same as “Plan A”. And May did not even attempt to hide the fact. There were vague promises to conduct talks with the other parties and the EU, but nothing concrete and certainly nothing that would pave the way for a compromise/consensus in Parliament. We have no doubts that May really does believe that her deal is the best way forward (we actually share this opinion), but the reality of the matter is that Parliament is not willing to budge and will put obstacles in the Prime Minister’s way wherever it can.
The next opportunity will be this coming Tuesday, when the proposal submitted by the Prime Minister is discussed and voted on. The most important thing to look out for are the amendments. Labour started the ball rolling yesterday by tabling an amendment that enables “an alternative Brexit deal that protects jobs, living standards and workers’ rights and environmental standards, including through a comprehensive customs union”. The tabled amendment also opens up the possibility of a second referendum. But whereas this change in policy by Labour (Corbyn had previously refused to support a second referendum) heightens the probability of a second referendum, there are still significant hurdles.
On the one hand there are practical problems. In order to be able to hold a second referendum, both Houses would have to pass a law. That is by definition a lengthy, complicated process, made even more difficult by the fact that there will inevitably be enormous differences of opinion about the conditions under which the referendum should be held, and what question should be asked. On top of which, there is the Electoral Commission, which has already stated that an election campaign of less than six months is unacceptable, meaning that a referendum could not be held before the autumn of 2019. However, the political hurdles are even more important: While the calls for a second referendum have without doubt become louder, many MPs still consider questioning the result of the first to be fundamentally wrong.