It’s a painfully overused cliché to say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, but British Prime Minister Theresa May is making the old saw hard to resist.
Parliament voted Thursday for May to ask European governments for an extension to the March 29 deadline by which Britain was supposed to leave the EU. The extension became necessary after MPs voted for a second time on Tuesday to reject the withdrawal agreement May had negotiated, and then voted on Wednesday to rule out a “no-deal” Brexit, under which Britain would leave without any agreement in place. But May will wait to ask for an extension until after Wednesday, when she puts her unpopular agreement up for a third vote. If it is approved, she will ask for a three-month extension in order to implement the agreement. That scenario would mark a pretty miraculous shift—the same agreement was voted down on Tuesday by 149 votes. If Parliament does not approve it, she will ask for a longer extension. This is awkward since it would likely require Britain to participate in European Parliament elections in May and require political parties to put forward candidates for offices they intend to vacate before their terms would be up.
Either way, the other 27 EU member states would have to approve any extension. (This seems likely, but not completely certain. In an ironic twist, leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage, a member of the European Parliament, is urging the EU to veto the British government’s request.) And either way, the British government would have to figure out what to do in that extra time, keeping in mind that it’s been unable to reach satisfactory terms after two and a half years of negotiating.
The EU has ruled out further concessions to assuage the concerns of wary Brexiteers.
Hardliner Jacob Rees-Mogg says this rejection shouldn’t be taken at face value and that more negotiations could still happen. He probably has a point given how many ultimatums and supposedly hard and fast deadlines all sides of this debate have reneged on.
A delay would likely embolden proponents of a second referendum or “people’s vote.” Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has been skeptical of a second referendum, on Tuesday night said his party would support it as a “realistic option to beat the deadlock.”
Opponents of a second referendum have called it anti-democratic, given that British citizens already voted once in favor of Brexit. That’s a completely reasonable argument, though it will be a harder one to make after May asks those citizens’ representatives to vote on the same thing for a third time next week.
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