This week has felt like back to school for politicians following the much-needed Easter break, though only slowly have they re-engaged with the process of finding a way through the political stalemate that exists in Parliament over how to leave the European Union. With local and European elections on the horizon, Labour has no incentive to help the Prime Minister solve her conundrum at this stage, so while negotiations between the two major parties restarted this week, nobody is expecting a breakthrough before May. October 31st feels a long way off right now.
That suits Jeremy Corbyn, who can point to continued chaos from Theresa May, but for the PM this is a disaster: the UK is almost certain to take part in European Parliamentary elections on 23rd May, costing over £100m to organise. The blame is largely left at her door. As a result, polling in recent days has shown Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party shooting into the lead, with Labour in second and the Tories languishing in third place. All told, parties that ostensibly support leaving the EU (Brexit Party, Conservatives, Labour, DUP and UKIP) are vastly outnumbering those parties who wish to remain (Lib Dems, SNP, CHUK-TIG, Greens and Plaid Cymru).
That being said, Labour’s internal divisions on the matter will only crystallise as we approach the election period in May. The Conservatives have now had their civil war, so it’s Labour’s turn to face the limelight. At present the Labour Party’s position is fairly incomprehensible, as they attempt to sit on the fence, accepting the result in principle but rejecting every practical means of implementing it. This worked well for Corbyn in the 2017 election, and he appears to be trying the same trick again.
So what happens now? Expect no movement on how to leave the EU before 23rd May when it’s almost certain Nigel Farage will triumph and politicians in the Conservatives and Labour can assess what their actions in recent months have done to their popularity and chances of electoral success. If the Tories do badly, as seems likely since even elected Conservatives appear to be egging the Brexit Party on, there will be renewed calls for Theresa May to accept defeat and go so a new leader can be installed over the summer. There’s no suggestion however in her pattern of behaviour that she will heed these calls. If Labour muddle through and come a respectable second, expect Corbyn to again see off challenges for him to alter Labour’s course and accept a second referendum. So we’ll be back where we were – status quo ante bellum.
Rumour has it that May’s current thinking is that she will introduce legislation to leave the EU as soon as next week in the hope of breaking the deadlock and avoiding the EU elections. By making the legislation amendable, that would show the world that, with tweaks, her deal would be acceptable to Parliament. Trouble is, that would make her version of the deal different from the one the EU has agreed, and she is relying on an opposition who are enjoying watching her squirm far too much to throw her a rope.