Analysis: Hope of last minute concessions from Brussels is misplaced

Theresa May has succeeded in uniting Tories but her options are limited. Picture by PA Wire

THERE'S been a strong sense of hubris around Westminster's two recent significant votes on Brexit. Paradoxically, the overwhelming rejection of the withdrawal agreement earlier this month represented a victory for both Remainers and Leavers alike, and seemingly signalled the end of the line for Theresa May. Those content with no deal believed the Tory leader's trouncing meant she had little choice but to accept the inevitable crash-out, while advocates of second referendum felt it strengthened their case.

But Mrs May had other ideas and in typically stubborn fashion, failed to concede defeat, returning to the House of Commons on Tuesday and securing support for an apparent compromise plan to renegotiate the backstop. It was a move that united the Tories, and one from their perspective placed responsibility for finding a solution on Brussels.

Yet from the EU saw it as a cosmetic exercise and while it may buy the prime minister some time, its premise that the backstop must go means ultimately it was fruitless. The response from the EU bloc, including Dublin, was united – a time-limited backstop from which the UK can unilaterally withdraw is not a backstop. And anyway, the negotiations closed in December when the withdrawal agreement, including the backstop, was signed off.

More in hope than genuine expectation, there is speculation that at the eleventh hour, when the scent of a disorderly Brexit reaches Michel Barnier's nostrils, there will be some kind of rethink and last minute concessions. The received wisdom indicates this hope is misplaced.

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While the Remainers will continue in their desire to see the whole project derailed, the Brexiteers will seek to ensure the British people regard the EU's refusal to renegotiate as simply more unreasonableness, reinforcing their determination to sever ties with Brussels.

What the prime minister will do when she's exhausted this latest ruse is anybody's guess but as the clock ticks down to March 29 efforts to extend article 50 and reach out across the Commons in a meaningful way become all the more compelling. There's an inevitable divergence within her party and at some point she must choose to jettison the DUP and its allies in the European Research Group, otherwise she'll be held responsible for the greatest catastrophe to beset Britain since the war.


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