If UK Prime Minister Theresa May were looking for signs of optimism over Brexit – and she would be forgiven for such a desperate search – then a few are starting to emerge.
Admittedly, May has had such a turbulent few months that the bar is set very low for any glimmer of hope.
Her government and party is still in chaos over the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. Two more ministers resigned yesterday. Last night, parliament won a significant victory in its battle for control over the Brexit process.
Accusations of incompetence are levied at her by the hour.
However, it is just about possible to see that the prime minister may finally get her own way on Brexit – with a few tweaks. Ironically, this could be happening in the same manner she won the contest to become prime minister nearly three years ago – due to all other contenders falling by the wayside.
Firstly, lawmakers fighting for a soft Brexit deal lost a crucial vote yesterday. The motion to allow a third opportunity to hold indicative votes on alternatives to May’s Brexit deal was defeated by just one vote.
The original vote was a tie, and as a result the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, had the casting vote and went with the government. Lawmakers had already had to chances to back alternative options and could not reach a majority on anything. That route is now closed off, making May’s deal more likely.
Secondly, the prime minister has embarked on a new strategy of seeking consensus with the opposition Labour party, through talks with its leader Jeremy Corbyn, which could lead to her normally rebellious Brexiteer MPs (members of Parliament) coming round to her deal.
Brexiteer Conservative lawmakers are furious that May has started to involve Corbyn in discussions about a way forward – not because he’s anti-Brexit (he’s actually fairly Euroskeptic) but because they view him as a hard-left politician who would damage the economy.
From May’s point of view, she can use these talks to pursue a double-game: Show soft Brexit and remain-supporting lawmakers that she wants to build a more moderate consensus, but also scare Brexiteers into backing her original deal out of fear of something “worse.” Those two ministerial resignations were triggered by that Brexiteer anger.
Thirdly, a no deal is becoming increasingly unlikely – meaning, again, May’s deal emerges as a stronger possibility.
On Tuesday evening, the prime minister promised that she would not allow the UK to leave the EU without a deal. Even if they were just words, last night the House of Commons voted to give legal backing to that position. Legislation designed to block a no deal and instead extend the Article 50 process, which sets out the timetable for Brexit, was passed – again by one vote.
No deal remains possible – because the bill needs to be approved by the House of Lords, and EU leaders need to approve a further delay to Brexit.
And yet last night’s events in Parliament have dramatically decreased the likelihood of no deal.
Fourthly, while a second referendum – which could cancel Brexit altogether – is still a distinct possibility, there remain major obstacles in its path.
Corbyn raised the issue of a second referendum in his meeting with the prime minister yesterday, but while it’s official Labour policy, the leader, and many of his senior politicians, are personally skeptical of this measure.
May is also staunchly opposed, and a vote earlier this week showed that there’s no majority in parliament for another public vote.
Intransigence wins out?
In reality, things remain incredibly tough for May and her deal.
She will have to give ground on something – to win support from Corbyn and Labour lawmakers, as well as ensuring it gets another hearing in the Commons.
Everything has to be approved by EU leaders – and a summit in Brussels next week, two days before the current official Brexit date of April 12, is going to be decisive.
Even if her deal passes she will have to fulfill her promise to resign once Brexit has been delivered, because her authority and credibility are at rock bottom.
And yet, May’s sheer stubbornness and intransigence – for which she has been criticized throughout the Brexit process – could see her deal, slightly amended, be approved by virtue of it being the last thing standing.
The prime minister has been accused of running down the clock on Brexit in order to get her deal through. There’s no doubt this is true – but it could be the way she scores victory after all.