The worst defeat of a Government in recent history, greater in numbers than anything suffered by Ramsay MacDonald’s 1923-4 minority Labour administration, where the party had just 191 MPs. The Tories, with more than 300, were defeated by a majority of 230 on Theresa May’s much-vaunted Brexit deal. It was the kind of humiliation that Prime Ministers of the past would have treated as a resigning matter. Not her.
So it should have come as no surprise that Jeremy Corbyn has, as leader of the opposition, put down a motion of no confidence in the Government. There are good reasons for this: as it stands, Theresa May is unable, or unwilling, to progress her Brexit deal, the clock is ticking down to March 29, the Tories are treating this crisis as if it were a jolly game of sport, and the effects of their time in power have been disastrous.
Poverty is at shamefully high levels, rough sleeping is endemic across the country, the NHS is being squeezed to the point where it is having difficulty coping with demand, the disabled are being humiliated by a benefits régime that is totally without compassion, local Government is in crisis, the emergency services are stretched to breaking point, while those who are “just about managing” are ignored - and the rich get richer.
Yes, Corbyn has sound reasons for calling a no confidence vote today. The problem he has is that the Tory tribe will rally round Ms May, and the blinkered and intolerant of the DUP will also back her. They are scared witless of a General Election which could see a Labour Government returned, a Government which would put the majority of the population first. This is a concept alien to many in the Tory Party.
So Jezza needs a Plan B, and preferably one which has a chance of dislodging Theresa May. Moreover, he needs to get it through the Commons. Extending the Article 50 process, so named after the provision in the Lisbon Treaty on departure from the EU, may not be an option, as Guy Verhofstadt has pointed out this morning.
“What we will not let happen, deal or no deal, is that the mess in British politics is again imported into European politics. While we understand the UK could need more time, for us it is unthinkable that article 50 is prolonged beyond the European Elections” he has told. So extension of Article 50 may not be possible. But revocation certainly is.
That does not take Brexit off the table. But it does remove the threat of No Deal - and neuters the weapon of seeing the clock tick down as a means for Theresa May to bend Parliament to her will. Moreover, some Tories may be persuaded to back it. Revoking Article 50 would be a greater humiliation for Ms May than last night’s defeat.
Revocation would mean she had not only failed to deliver Brexit, but that she would not be able to deliver it in the future - her sole tactic would be to tweak her deal and keep bringing it back. Without the clock ticking down, she would be bust. Thus the best prospect of seeing her go to the Palace and tender her resignation before the Queen.
A Corbyn Government would be able to negotiate in its own time, and only if the people decided they then wanted out, be able to invoke Article 50 once more.
Jezza’s Plan B should be to revoke Article 50. That is all.
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