The twisting complex plot of Brexit gets ever more confusing. You may remember that last week PM Theresa May presented her Plan for Brexit, the British exit from the EU. At that time she basically stated that this was the only possible Plan, negotiated over the past few years in detail with the EU. But, the House of Commons (HC) didn’t like her “take-it-or-leave it” approach, so they voted it down by a huge margin. There were a variety of opponents, including those against Brexit, those in favor of a “hard” Brexit with no further connections with the EU, and even those who want a “no-deal” Brexit with no deal with the EU, those who want to extend the period of negotiations, those who want a second referendum, etc.
Given this rare defeat for the Government, the leader of the Labour opposition Jeremy Corbyn introduced a vote of non-confidence in the Govt. But, this failed because the majority of MP’s didn’t want to change horses in mid-stream. They want May to continue the process, but with their input (or control). As such they mandated that May return in 3 days (!) with a Plan B, showing her flexibility and responsiveness to their (often contradictory) concerns.
Not surprisingly when May returned 3 days later and presented her Plan B, it was very much like Plan A (how could it not be). She changed two things, she dumped the plan to charge EU citizens living in the UK a fee for applying for residence, and she said she would modify the so-called “back-stop” agreement between the UK, that includes Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the EU (of which Ireland is a member). This agreement is necessary so that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland does not become a “hard” border again. Precisely how this back-stop agreement will be changed is unclear, but depends on re-negotiation with the EU.
Since the PM put her Plan B up for discussion, this allowed MP’s to add amendments, and here the opponents crawled out of the woodwork. The Speaker of the House used his authority to dismiss most the more outlandish amendments, however, about 8 were allowed. Only one of them that was passed has significance. Although it is not binding on the PM, it requires that there be NO “non-deal” Brexit. In other words, the UK must sign an exit agreement with the EU. Finally, after all the amendments, the Plan B was voted on and it passed by a resounding acclaim.
So largely the difference between Plan A and Plan B was that Theresa May took a much softer approach to the opinions being expressed by the MP’s. She listened to them, she agreed to continue to consult with them, she appeared more flexible and less dogmatic, and this worked. But, word from out of Brussels was that the EU is not interested. Their attitude, as was May’s Plan A, is that the long negotiations have concluded, that an agreement has been arrived at (650 pages) and that there is no turning back and no renegotiation possible, and that the back-stop agreement on the Irish border is part of that agreement, period. Now May faces the unenviable task of returning to Brussels to plead with them to agree to re-open these issues when as far as they are concerned, all negotiations are over. Can she persuade them to at least show the appearance of flexibility, as she did so expertly in the HC