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British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal is dead. It is just not buried.

The Prime Minister hopes to raise it Lazarus-like and present herself as a political Messiah. But her deal has been shot, knifed, strangled, knocked over the head with the candlestick and thrown into a ditch.

To put the chances of a political miracle into perspective, let us look at the next worse defeat in modern British political history.  The current British government lost by 230 votes. The next nearest defeat was in 1924. Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government  had dropped a prosecution against John Ross Campbell, editor of the communist newspaper “The Workers’ Weekly” after he published an article calling on the British armed forces to mutiny in support of a socialist revolution. In that case the majority against the government was a mere 160.

Theresa May likes to portray herself as strong and stable leader with a Churchillian touch of the British bulldog.  A better description would be bull headed.

Parliament has given the Prime Minister until Monday to perform her miracle and come up with a Plan B. She has responded by calling a meeting of all party leaders that will dispense with red lines and reach a compromise, breathe new life into the EU Withdrawal Bill and win over 230 dissenting members of parliament.  If this miracle were to happen the result would be a horribly stitched Frankenstein monster .

The biggest problem is not so much the terms of the agreement as the bitter divide between the ruling Conservatives and the Opposition Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn. The Conservative government is being driven by its far-right wing and Corbyn is so far on the left of the political spectrum that he is in danger of dropping off.   His policies are so extreme that the Conservatives are  five points ahead in the opinion polls despite the total Brexit disaster. Corbyn’s only hope of winning power and creating a British workers’ paradise is to allow Theresa May to create a chaotic vacuum into which he can step.

That is why, in spite of losing the vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill by 230 votes, the Conservative Party and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists united against Corbyn’s motion of no confidence in the government.  They hate the Brexit deal. They are frightened of the Brexit Deal. They hate and are frightened at the prospect of a Corbyn government even more.

Even if Labour and the Conservatives can surmount their ideological differences for the common good there are other parliamentary differences which  need to be overcome. The 2016 referendum was called to resolve the remain/leave split within the Conservative Party.  It has only turned the crack into a yawning fissure. Not so well known is a similar division within Labour ranks. It would become painfully apparent should Corbyn succeed in orchestrating and winning a general election.

Theresa May is totally opposed to a second referendum. She argues that membership of the EU is not the only issue at stake. The wider—and more important—issue of British democracy is also threatened.  British voters were asked what they wanted: In or out. They voted out. It is the duty of the political class to respect the majority decision of the electorate and implement it.

The problem is that the prime minister’s position ignores the political reality that she has failed to implement the mandate of the people.  The deal that she has negotiated is unacceptable to their parliamentary representatives who are successfully mirroring divisions within the wider British public.  The chaos of no deal is also unacceptable. The only credible alternative is to put the question back to the people in a referendum and to bury Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Bill.

Tom Arms is editor of


5 Comments on "Dead Not Buried"

  1. The referendum question was, as Tom Arms has correctly stated, “Do you want to be in the EU or not?” A straight forward simple question with a “Yes” or “No” answer. Nothing about a deal or no deal, nothing about the Irish border, nothing about it being an “advisory vote”. We voted out and the MPs must implement that decision irrespective of their views, that’s democracy. The MPs serve us, the British electorate, we do not serve them despite what a large number of them think.

  2. Geoff,

    Several points in response to your comment: 1, MPs do not “serve us”. They represent us. There is a subtle but distinct difference. For one thing, they are– as British philosopher politician Edmund Burke made clear– elected for their judgement rather than to vote a certain way on specific issues. 2- I am sorry, but you are wrong about the advisory nature of the vote. The British constitution is clear in that parliament is sovereign and because that is the case a referendum can never be more than advisory. In the case of Brexit, the political parties said they would abide with the result of the referendum. The parties are not parliament which did not bind itself to the result because it could not legally do so. 3- We do not live in a democracy. We live in a representative democracy in which we democratically elect representatives who democratically vote on legislation put before them by an executive appointed by the Queen who chooses a Prime Minister based on their ability to command a majority in the House of Commons. Democracies may work at the level of a Greek city state or a town hall but not in an advanced country of 69 million people. Personally, I would like to see referenda banned. Their implied once-in-a-lifetime nature opens the political system to danger and abuse. Constitutionally speaking, parliament can decide to to reject Mrs May’s deal, the referendum result and remain in the EU. Unfortunately, this is a political impossibility. Once you have started down the rocky referendum road on a particular issue the only way to turn back is with another referendum if the system is expected to retain a shred of credibility.

    • Tom

      On your second point I would just like to say that a referendum can be legally binding provided the act passed to set it up stipulates this. The alternative vote referendum of 2011 for instance was indeed legally binding as this was provided for in the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Act 2011. The European Union Referendum Act 2015 did not contain such a stipulation and so was legally speaking advisory. However as Geoff rightly pointed out, at no point were the British public told that the vote was only advisory, instead the UK government delivered a leaflet to every home which explicitly said “the government will implement what you decide”.

      You can make the argument that referendums do not suit the political system of the UK. However, when you look at the case of Switzerland, a nation that outperforms both the UK and EU 27 in virtually every measure of wealth and wellbeing, it would seem their system of semi-direct democracy has done them little harm.

      • “The government” always strikes me as such a vague and, in a sense, naïve term. Which government would that be? Is May’s government the same as the Cameron government and would it be still “the goverment” if Corbyn won a general election? Of course, Brexiteers will (rightly) feel cheated if they don’t get what they want but I sincerely doubt they wouldn’t have fought just as hard if they’d lost 48% to 52%. Ultimately, though, I believe it comes down to Tom’s first point, which is the point made by Burke about the nature of our representative democracy.

        • I suppose you’re getting into “no parliament may bind another” territory there. That principle is of course fair enough. Problem is that when applied to successive governments formed by the same party within a short period it is hardly a good platform for building trust in politics nor having an earthly idea of what you are voting for. Of course this current government also ran on a manifesto of leaving the EU, so would be breaching that promise too should the country end up remaining in the EU while they were in power.

          Yes, agree with you, immaturity exists on both sides in being unable to accept not getting their own way, the same in Scotland on independence for that matter. That is probably the greatest case against having referendums in the UK, we aren’t mature enough for them.

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