Theresa May had hoped to avoid having to win MPs’ approval of her Brexit deal. And, to be fair, it’s fairly obvious why.
But the moment the UK Supreme Court established the primacy of parliamentary sovereignty – ironically sparking outrage from some Brexiteers – she should have realised she was now in a three-way negotiation, involving the British Government, the European Union and MPs. All would ultimately need to sign up to any Brexit deal.
While the Prime Minister managed to reach agreement with Brussels, she singularly failed with MPs. Her deal has now suffered two landslide defeats as MPs on both sides of the argument refused to give in to the twin threats of “no deal” or “no Brexit”.
No one likes being forced to do something they don’t want to do and MPs are perhaps among the least likely people to submit to this kind of treatment, given a high regard for your own judgement is a prerequisite for the job.
So the series of indicative votes in the Commons today – designed to find out what a majority of MPs want to happen – is a process that should have been carried out immediately after the last general election, either formally or informally.
May needed to know what kind of a deal MPs would sign up to before negotiating it. We are now in the current mess because she failed to do so, in a shocking lapse which showed she did not understand the basic requirements of any leader – to have enough followers.
So reports that she has offered to resign if this will enable her deal to pass are understandable. But if hardline Brexiteers are prepared to back May’s deal because she has promised to quit, it simply shows how petty and personal the situation has become. MPs need to instead focus on the national interest and face reality.
There is no point in voting for a new deal the EU will not agree to. If they will not back May’s plan, they must come up with a viable alternative to no deal.
And facing reality applies to Remainers as well as Brexiteers, whose notions have been so fanciful that some are known as “unicorns”.
If, even after today’s votes, MPs cannot make up their collective mind, a second referendum would be a fair way to resolve the situation. But if the Commons will not vote for one, Remainers need to realise Brexit is going to happen and ensure no deal is the unicorn that does not turn out to be real.