Top News

'On the brink of a breakdown': Blame and scorn between Theresa May and MPs as Brexit chaos heats up

Lawmakers from all parties heaped scorn and anger on British Prime Minister Theresa May in parliament on Wednesday as the country became increasingly mired in Brexit chaos.

But hours later, in an address to the nation, May put all the blame on parliamentarians for failing to agree on a breakup deal with the EU.

“I am on your side,” she told the public. “It is now time for MPs to decide.”

However, Britain is no nearer to solving its Brexit headache.

Twice May has put her European divorce deal before parliament and twice it has been overwhelmingly rejected, first by 230 votes and then by 149.

In a seemingly contradictory vote, members of parliament agreed not to exit the EU on March 29 — deadline day — without a deal.

So they won’t accept May’s deal but they do want some kind of deal.

In an effort to find an agreement, May is now asking the EU for an extension to that March deadline — to June 30.

European Council President Donald Tusk said he was open to a “short extension” but it would be “conditional on a positive vote on the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons.”

So May will have to put her divorce deal before parliament next week for a third time in the hope of a different outcome.

One possible scenario is that if the deal isn’t passed, then the EU might not grant an extension and then Britain could crash out without a deal — something neither the U.K. nor the EU wants.

France has been particularly vehement on this point, saying it was determined not to grant an extension unless the deal is agreed.

Journalist Peter Foster, writing in The Daily Telegraph, said, “The EU hopes that this game of hardball may, of course, be helpful to Mrs May, allowing her to put the frighteners on MPs on both sides of the House to such an extent that her Withdrawal Agreement finally passes. But equally, as officials acknowledge, by refusing to grant a palliative extension to Mrs May, the EU leaders are now complicit in driving the Brexit bus mighty close to the cliff edge.”

Another scenario, if the deal is rejected, is that the EU relents and agrees to an extension.

Dominic Grieve, a former Tory attorney general who savaged May in the House of Commons Wednesday, said yet another scenario was putting the prime minister’s deal to the public and letting them vote on it.

If all this wasn’t mayhem enough, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, ruled Monday that under parliamentary rules going back to the 17th century, May couldn’t put her deal to lawmakers for a third time without there being substantial changes to it.

No one seems quite sure how May intends to get around that ruling.

The prime minister’s question and answer session in the Commons on Wednesday afternoon was more chaotic than usual. A clearly frustrated May accused the Commons of “contemplating its navel on Europe.”

“The British people deserve better than this House has given them so far,” she said.

But she was met with boos and jeers, including from rebels in her own party. One of the most excoriating critiques came from Grieve.

“I have great sympathy for her … but I have to say, I could have wept. Wept at her being reduced to these straits, and wept to see her zigzagging all over the place, rather than standing up for what is in the national interest.”

He accused her government of “fast running out” of integrity and said May’s performance on Wednesday “was the worst moment” in his 22 years as an MP.

“I have never felt more shame to be a member of the Conservative Party or to be asked to lend her support,” Grieve said. “She spent most of her time castigating the House for its misconduct. At no stage did she pause to consider whether in fact it is the way she is leading this government which might be contributing to this situation.”

Watching the spectacle, Telegraph political commentator Michael Deacon wrote, “The mood was beyond angry. It was desperate. Frantic, stricken, bug-eyed, pleading. The Commons, it seemed, was on the brink of a breakdown.”

He added, “The more everyone told (May) she was wrong, the more certain she seemed that she was right. It was beyond mere stubbornness. What we saw was an imperious, unyielding, almost holy conviction. A conviction that she, and she alone, knew what was best for the country — and that anyone who disagreed with her, therefore, must want the worst.”

In her address to the nation, May carried that conviction forward.“It is high time we made a decision. So far, parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice. Motion after motion and amendment after amendment has been tabled without parliament ever deciding what it wants.

All MPs have been willing to say is what they do not want.”This week, the EU may decide — or may not — to grant Britain an extension on condition parliament passes the prime minister’s deal. The prime minister’s deal might — or might not — go before the Commons on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Britain will — or won’t — crash out of the EU on March 29.

— With files from Bloomberg News

By Michael Higgens

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

Recent Stories