What a relief. Britain last night stepped back from the abyss and finally rejected the siren voices calling for a no-deal Brexit.
MPs voted decisively against leaving the EU in such a reckless fashion – by 321 votes to 278 – and today MPs are expected to back asking the EU to agree to delay what is still, according to UK law, our departure date, 29 March.
It is not certain the EU will agree. Any one of the other 27 states can veto an extension and some may find themselves being lobbied by Brexiteers and others, like Vladimir Putin, who wish to see the world’s richest single market reduced in stature and power. But Germany, France and most member states will probably agree and put pressure on any country that does not.
Theresa May was still refusing to accept that her deal is dead. And it may be that hardline Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg will now accept it is the closest they will get to their over-optimistic visions. It is not impossible that, despite two overwhelming defeats, May’s deal could spring back to life.
But, as things stand, MPs have rejected both it and a no-deal Brexit, so they must now work out what they are actually in favour of. As a European Commission spokesperson pointed out, rejecting no-deal is not enough, an actual deal needs to be struck.
In a rare moment of leadership, Jeremy Corbyn said he would hold talks with MPs from all parties to find a “credible alternative plan” that would command the support of a majority in the Commons. He even managed to mention a “public vote” as a possibility. Had Theresa May sought to build such a coalition from the start, she would not have found herself at the mercy of Rees-Mogg and co.
The outcome of all this is still unclear. But it does seem that a potentially catastrophic no-deal is finally off the table. How it managed to be on it with just 16 days left and how 278 MP thought it should remain beggars belief,
As Corbyn throws out feelers to Remainers and soft-Brexiteers, May, the hardliners and the DUP are likely to hold talks of their own. However, all the options under discussion are very different to those on offer three years ago ahead of the EU referendum.
May claimed yesterday that she understands “the voice of the country” on Brexit, but there is only one sure way to truly hear it – and that’s in a second referendum.