Theresa May Is Not Politically Dead Yet

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.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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