It may seem that there hasn’t been a quiet week in politics for the last two years, and this week has certainly been no exception. On Monday, seven Labour MPs quit over the party’s position on, among other things, Brexit. Speculation over whether they will be joined by members of other parties has been rife, and the next few weeks are sure to be turbulent in Westminster.
As it stands, we are no closer to a deal from the EU. Theresa May returned to Brussels on 18 February with hopes of achieving a compromise over the controversial backstop arrangement, which is an insurance policy regarding the open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The policy is particularly unpopular with May’s backbench colleagues, and it is widely accepted that if she wishes to get any deal through parliament, it will have to be without the backstop arrangement.
In a fairly embarrassing blunder last week, the UK’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Olly Robbins, was overheard in a Brussels bar suggesting that an extension to Article 50 was possible from the EU. May has remained adamant that the UK will be leaving on 29 March this year, and there have been accusations from the left that the PM is looking to delay a vote on her new deal until the last minute, with hopes of pressuring MPs to vote for a deal instead of accepting no-deal.
It is still not clear what this new deal might be. It appears May isn’t looking to drastically change the main parts of her first withdrawal agreement. We are still looking to leave the single market, for example, despite Labour’s attempts to push for a closer customs arrangement than perhaps May would like. It seems to be an almost impossible task to secure an agreement that satisfies a majority of members in parliament.
So what’s to come? If there hasn’t been a deal reached in Brussels, then the PM has promised to return to the Commons with a statement on 28 February, which will trigger debates and votes in the following days.
If, however, May has managed to achieve a new deal, then parliament will have a second meaningful vote.
At four weeks from the Brexit date, many would have expected us to be a little more certain about the future than we are now. With Brexit splitting opinions across parliament, gaining a majority for a deal is beginning to seem less and less likely.