At 7pm Tuesday night in London, UK Prime Minister Theresa May lost a 432-202 vote in the House of Commons, on the Brexit deal she had personally negotiated. 118 MPs from her Conservative party voted against her, sending her to the worst defeat of any Prime Minister in Britain’s modern era and the worst rebellion in the history of the Conservative Party. May had curated this deal with her Conservative colleagues and negotiated it with the EU, but Britain has never seen a governmental failure of this magnitude, on a policy issue of such import. Tuesday night was Theresa May’s most ignominious hour.
This extraordinary event has three consequences. First, on a policy level, Britain’s parliament has rejected the proposed agreement to exit the EU, so it is unclear what will follow. Second, the defeat was so unequivocal that the current agreement cannot be brought back for another vote. Third, this vote spelled the end of Theresa May’s political career. Though she beat back a vote of no confidence on Wednesday by 19 votes, she won simply because her Brexiteering colleagues who hate her deal fear Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn more.
Next Monday, May is required to offer an alternative policy to her defeated plan. Whatever she presents will likely be irrelevant, as Theresa May is no longer truly in charge of Britain, Brexit, or the Conservative Party. As with President Trump and the 2018 Midterm elections, after the vote May still holds the office but is shorn of a good deal of her power.
There are now only three possible outcomes: Brexit with a modified deal, a no deal Brexit, or no Brexit. Sadly, every side assumes that they will now obtain their preferred result. Theresa May believes that, as March 29th (Britain’s formal EU Exit Day) draws close, recalcitrant MPs will reluctantly choose a flawed deal she will offer over no deal at all. Her concerns are economic, as a no deal Brexit would cost Britain an estimated 9.3 percent of its GDP and 750,000 jobs, or 2.5 percent of all jobs in the country. But Brexiteers firmly hold that, if they can run out the clock, the resulting no deal Brexit will liberate Britain from Europe’s contaminating clutches and return her to a state of grace, no matter the cost. Finally, the Remainers see May’s defenestration as a clear path to a second referendum, to undo the damage of the 2016 referendum. No side is giving ground, as all see victory nearly within their grasp.
To be fair, this catastrophe is not solely May’s fault, it is simply the moment when the long chain of manipulations, misjudgments, and wishful thinking crashed into reality.
Tuesday’s vote was the culmination of three poisoned and sulphurous elements; first, the actions of an extremist anti-European wing of the Conservative party, bent on Making Britain Great Again, preferring an atavistic revolution to a realistic future; second, a series of cynical manipulations by David Cameron and other senior Conservative leaders, who traded their party’s tradition of responsible government for tainted electoral success; and third, the Labour Party’s repeated inability to successfully challenge the Conservative Party as a credible and persuasive governing party.
These three threads wound together in the 2015 general election. The unexpected popularity of the UK Independence Party prompted Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to offer a devil’s deal of a Brexit referendum to…