What does Theresa May's resignation announcement mean for Brexit?
- Theresa May has announced that she will stand down if MPs back her Brexit deal.
- However, her resignation does not appear to have been decisive in winning sufficient support for her deal.
- Opposition parties and Conservative Brexiteers have not swung in big enough numbers behind the agreement.
- The UK government may now not even bring the deal back for another vote this week.
LONDON - Theresa May announced on Wednesday that she will resign as prime minister once Brexit is concluded, in a last-ditch attempt to win support from Conservative MPs for her EU Withdrawal Agreement.
The announcement initially appeared to have some success in persuading prominent Conservative Brexiteers, including her former Foreign Secretary, to support her.
However, within hours the rush of steam that had inflated her deal, quickly evaporated. The Democratic Unionist Party, which props up May's minority government, announced that they would continue to oppose the deal regardless. Hopes that they might be persuaded to abstain in another vote were also quashed.
"We don't abstain when it comes to the Union," the party's Deputy leader Nigel Dodds said.
The DUP's announcement also triggered a rapid about-turn from a number of Conservative Brexiteers. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who chairs the anti-EU European Research Group of Conservative MPs, told ITV that he would no longer support the deal, having only supported it for around 24 hours.
In a wood-panelled room inside Parliament, members of the group, who have dominated the debate over May's deal in Westminster, loudly cheered and hugged their deputy leader Steve Baker as he confirmed that he would continue to oppose the deal.
"I could tear this place [Parliament] down and bulldoze it into the river," Baker told them, in a remarkable speech briefed out to Business Insider afterwards
"These fools and knaves and cowards are voting on things they don't even understand. We've been put in this place by people whose addiction to power without responsibility has led them to put the choice of No Brexit or this deal.
"I may yet resign the [Conservative party] whip than be part of this."
What happens next?
With the DUP and significant numbers of Conservative Brexiteers still firmly opposed to the deal, May's only hope of winning support for it now moves onto Conservative Remainers and Labour MPs.
However, with those MPs moving instead to support votes on Thursday evening for a softer Brexit, a second referendum, or the revocation of Article 50, those hopes remain distant.
Indeed for many Labour MPs, May's resignation has actually decreased the chance that they will back her deal. With a vote for the deal now meaning a Conservative leadership election and a likely subsequent general election, most Brexit-leaning Labour MPs will be even more reluctant to support the PM than they had been before.
And with the Speaker John Bercow also insisting on Wednesday that he will use all of his powers to block a third vote on the deal happening at all, the odds of May ever winning agreement for her deal are rapidly diminishing.
Indeed, at the time of writing, the prospects of the government even attempting to bring the deal back to the Commons on Friday, as originally planned, do not look good.
Instead, the action will now move to next Monday when Members of Parliament will attempt to win support for one of the alternatives that came close to gaining a majority on Wednesday.
The two options that gained the most support were leaving the EU with a Customs Union, and a second EU referendum.
However, with many of those who passionately back the former, still bitterly opposed to the latter, and many of those who passionately support the latter, still bitterly opposed to the former, winning a majority on Monday for either option still looks difficult.
Britain heading for a long Brexit delay
Throughout this process, it has been clear what Parliament opposes - May's deal, or leaving the EU without a deal.
However, with just two weeks to go until the new deadline for leaving the EU, it remains completely unclear what, if any, alternative to those outcomes parliament will ultimately support.
And without that clarity, the chance of Britain being forced into seeking a long extension to Brexit, of potentially a year or more, looks increasingly likely.
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