Theresa May set a date for her final Brexit showdown, promising to bring her deal back to Parliament at the start of June. Talks with the opposition Labour Party haven’t yielded an agreement, but she’s hoping members of parliament, stung by voter revolts, will back her in order to end the process that’s tearing both main parties apart.
“It’s time for parliament to make a decision,” Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay told the BBC. “The country needs to move forward. Business needs to have certainty.”
In reality, May has run out of options. She opened talks with Labour seven weeks ago, arguing that nothing else had worked. Her Conservative Party was furious. But the talks didn’t deliver a breakthrough, and it was never clear that they could deliver a majority.
The next stage of May’s plan, as it was announced in April, was moving to a series of indicative votes if the talks failed. That appears to have been shelved.
Instead, in the week of June 3, while Donald Trump is in the UK on a state visit, she’ll put before Parliament the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which would write her deal into law.
The government said this was “imperative” if the bill was to pass before parliament goes on vacation in July.
The WAB, as it’s known, has been repeatedly postponed since last year, as May has tried to find a majority in parliament for her deal. She has failed three times to get the House of Commons to support it. Some Conservatives, and her allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, oppose it because of the “Irish backstop” section that deals with Northern Ireland’s border.
If the bill is defeated, May can’t bring it back again without ending this parliamentary session and starting a new one, which would require a review of the confidence-and-supply agreement with the DUP that props up her minority government. It would also raise the prospect of defeat on votes on the government’s legislative programme.
In reality, it would almost certainly mean a new prime minister. Even May, who has survived so many bruising defeats, would struggle to argue she should stay on as Conservative leader if her deal is voted down.