Theresa May Is Not Politically Dead Yet

Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday suffered the worst parliamentary defeat for a British leader in 95 years, with the House of Commons voting 432-202 to reject her proposed withdrawal plan from the EU. Given the size of the rebuke, why is Theresa May not politically dead yet?

The fact of her survival suggests that far from a Brexit breakthrough, Britain is now heading for a period of severe political paralysis. Here's why:



A Domestic Stalemate – After May's defeat yesterday, the opposition Labour Party immediately announced its intention to trigger a motion of no confidence. A vote on the motion will take place this evening, which, if successful, would prompt new elections if another figure isn't able to form a government within 14 days. To topple May today, Labour would need significant Conservative defections.

But although 118 of 316 Conservative MPs opposed May's Brexit deal, they'll be reluctant to bring her down simply to hand power over to the opposition. Nor can Conservatives replace her with an alternative figure this year, after a previous attempt to do so failed. For better or worse, May's likely to soldier on.

Negotiating Plan B – That leaves as the only real option negotiations with EU leaders to try and reach a deal that can gain broader support at home. The timeline is tight: in just three days, May must deliver a Plan B to Parliament.

The size of yesterday's defeat suggests that it will take more than modest tweaks to get such a deal across the line. Instead, May will now face growing pressure to seek a much "softer" Brexit that maintains close ties between the UK and EU.

This approach has two distinct advantages: first, members of the opposition Labour Party might be persuaded to support it, though hardline Conservatives would almost certainly bolt. Second, EU leaders will be inclined to be more lenient if it means preserving close relations with the UK down the road.

But May needs more time. Britain is currently scheduled to leave the EU on March 29 – with or without a deal. EU leaders in Brussels are likely resigned to the necessity of extending that deadline to avoid an economically disruptive "no-deal" scenario. But even if May returns home with a "better" agreement, there's no guarantee that it will pass in Parliament.

The bigger problem is that yesterday's vote didn't resolve the basic question of whether there's actually a specific Brexit plan that a majority of UK parliamentarians can actually agree on. As that reality starts to sink in, politicians on both sides of the issue may decide the only way forward is a second referendum to try to clarify the desire of the British people.

Brazil's governors take on Bolsonaro: We've previously written about the tensions between local and national governments over coronavirus response, but few places have had it as bad as Brazil. As COVID-19 infections surged in Brazil, the country's governors quickly mobilized – often with scarce resources – to enforce citywide lockdowns. Brazil's gangs have even risen to the occasion, enforcing strict curfews to limit the virus' spread in Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, has mocked the seriousness of the disease and urged states to loosen quarantines in order to get the economy up and running again. "Put the people to work," he said this week, "Preserve the elderly; preserve those who have health problems. But nothing more than that." In response, governors around the country – including some of his allies – issued a joint letter to the president, begging him to listen to health experts and help states contain the virus. The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic powerhouse, has even threatened to sue the federal government if Bolsonaro continues to undermine his efforts to combat the virus' spread.

More Show less

The major outbreaks of coronavirus in China, Europe, and the United States have garnered the most Western media attention in recent weeks. Yesterday, we went behind the headlines to see how Mexico and Russia are faring. Today, we'll look at three other potential hotspots where authorities and citizens are now contending with the worst global pandemic in a century.

Start with India. For weeks, coronavirus questions hovered above that other country with a billion-plus people, a famously chaotic democracy where the central government can't simply order a Chinese-scale public lockdown with confidence that it will be respected. It's a country where 90 percent of people work off the books— without a minimum wage, a pension, a strong national healthcare system, or a way to work from home.

More Show less

In the end, it took the coronavirus to break the year-long deadlock in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu will still face corruption charges, but he has yet another new lease on political life, as he and political rival Benny Gantz cut a deal yesterday: Bibi will continue as prime minister, with Gantz serving as Speaker of the Knesset, Israel's parliament. After 18 months, Gantz will take over as prime minister, but many doubt that will ever happen.

More Show less

With large parts of the American economy shuttered because of coronavirus-related lockdowns, the number of people filing jobless claims in the US last week exceeded 3.2 million, by far the highest number on record. Here's a look at the historical context. The surge in jobless claims, which may be an undercount, is sure to cause a spike in the unemployment rate (which tells you the percent of work-ready people who are looking for a job). At last reading in February, unemployment was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. Economists warn that it could reach 5.5 percent in the near term. Even that would be far lower than the jobless rates recorded during previous economic crises such as the Great Depression or the Great Recession. Have a look.