One striking thing about British politics for an American observer is that bipartisanship and “reaching across the aisle” are not fetishized there like they are here. This is probably for structural reasons: In the American system, the White House and the legislature are often controlled by different parties—Donald Trump has to sit down with “Chuck and Nancy” on a regular basis if he wants to pass anything through Congress. In the U.K., the party controlling Parliament also controls the executive, and can usually rely on its own votes, sometimes with a coalition partner, to pass legislation.
So the prime minister sitting in a room haggling with the leader of the opposition to pass her bill—as Theresa May did with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn this week—is not how things are supposed to work. It’s even weirder when the governing party’s official position for the past four years has been that the leader of the opposition is an anti-Semitic Stalinist who poses a grave threat to national security. But with the prime minister’s party terminally split over Brexit, that’s where we are.
Today’s meeting: Corbyn and May wrapped up a second day of talks after four and half hours Thursday. May is now hoping to forge an agreement with Corbyn that the two of them can present jointly to Parliament, meaning she’s hoping that she can get enough votes from the opposition to overcome resistance from the hard-liners in her own party and her coalition partners, who have continuously opposed the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with the EU.
No concrete deal came out of the talks, but they plan to meet again and May’s side described the session as “constructive.” That’s also what they said about Wednesday’s meeting, but there have been reports suggesting it was a little frostier than that:
Today in intra-party squabbles: The Labour Party is split on whether Corbyn should demand a new public referendum on whatever deal is passed. Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign minister, issued a statement Wednesday calling on the party to insist that “any deal agreed by Parliament must be subject to a confirmatory public vote, and yes, the other option on the ballot must be Remain.” But Thursday, 25 Labour MPs wrote an open letter to Corbyn warning him against calling for a new referendum, insisting on the importance of “respecting the 2016 vote.” The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, who participated in the May-Corbyn talks, said a new vote would be discussed, but it’s not clear how strongly Labour will push for it. This whole debate will be academic if Corbyn and May can’t reach an agreement at all.
Today’s in Lords: Wednesday night, the House of Commons passed a bill, by one vote, that attempts to prevent a no-deal Brexit by requiring May to ask the EU for an extension on the current Brexit deadline, which is April 12. (Coming up soon!) It would also give Parliament the power to determine the length of the extension she asked for. The government opposes the bill, arguing that it would actually increase the risk of an “accidental” no-deal Brexit: EU leaders are meeting on Wednesday where they will likely consider the U.K.’s request for a delay. If they approve a different date than the one proposed by Parliament, May would then have to bring it back for approval by Parliament the next day, which is April 11, one day before the deadline. That’s cutting it pretty close.
The bill still needs to be approved by the House of Lords, where it is being debated Thursday under a special expedited process. (Most bills take weeks to pass.) Pro-Brexit lords are fighting the bill, with one calling the expedited process “tyranny.”
Today in Ireland: German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Ireland on Thursday, where she met with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and spoke with people living near the Republic of Ireland–Northern Ireland border. Merkel was seeking a “clearer picture” of how Ireland is preparing for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, according to the German ambassador. “We will do everything in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit,” Merkel said in a press conference, which could indicate she’s open to granting the U.K. another extension next week. But a lot still has to happen before then.
The visit seemed to have some personal resonance for Merkel, who grew up in East Germany during the era of the Berlin Wall. “I lived behind the Iron Curtain—and I know what it means when walls fall. The discussion with citizens from the border region has shown that everything must be done in order to maintain this peaceful coexistence,” she said.
Today in plumbing:
Days left until next deadline: 8