Uncertain Brexit threatens Conservative defections while Labour wants a second referendum

It is increasingly clear that while the British populace wants the Brexit they voted for, the majority of those in Parliament are determined to ensure democracy does not prevail above their superior sensibilities. This week, in the wake of developments that suggest Brexit may be delayed or prevented, leader of Britain’s UKIP party Gerard Batten said, "Two years and eight months later we're not much closer to leaving than we were... This betrayal has been engineered from the day after the referendum."

Conservative MP and Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg says he fears MPs and Ministers seeking an extension of Article 50 are in fact plotting to stop Brexit, after PM May caved in to their demands for a vote on blocking no-deal. The Chairman of the European Research Group warned colleagues that any attempt to delay Brexit in order to block it entirely would “undermine democracy”, saying, “If it’s being delayed – as is my suspicion – as a plot to stop Brexit altogether, then I think that would be the most grievous error that politicians can commit. It would be overthrowing a referendum result, two general elections – one to call the referendum, one to implement the referendum – and would undermine our democracy.”

Last week, Conservative MPs Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry, and Sarah Wollaston defected to the new Independent Group. In an attempt to prevent more resignations from her Cabinet, Prime Minister Theresa May announced over the weekend that two further votes would be held within 48 hours should she be unable to ratify the withdrawal agreement by March 12, meaning the final vote on her plan has been delayed until just 17 days before the country is scheduled to leave the EU. The first vote will be on whether MPs wish to depart the EU without a deal, and should that be rejected, the second will ask them vote on a “short, limited” extension of Article 50. If PM May fails to get her deal through Westminster, then Britain will leave the bloc on March 29 in a no-deal scenario. A formal request to the European Union (EU) would request a short-term extension of Article 50, while reports from Brussels suggest the EU could demand the United Kingdom (UK) remain in the bloc until 2021.

Three Cabinet Ministers – Amber Rudd, David Gauke, and Greg Clark – signalled over the weekend that they would support a backbench effort this week to delay withdrawal to prevent a no-deal. Between 15 and 25 ministers and parliamentary private secretaries are reportedly prepared to resign in their opposition to the prospect of a no deal exit from the EU. 23 of these met on Monday evening and 18 of them made clear they were ready to rejoin the backbenchers. Their departures would not only gut the Conservative government but also further undermine the Prime Minister’s ability to get any Brexit-related legislation passed.

While the Conservatives continue their infighting, the new Brexit Party has signed up 100,000 members within a week of launching, and this number is only slightly lower than the number of people who are members of the Conservative Party. Some believe the Brexit Party could attract Conservatives who favour a hard Brexit and are disillusioned with PM May’s handling of the EU withdrawal. Founded by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, the party was officially registered with the Electoral Commission on February 8. Mr. Farage has stated he will run for leadership of the Brexit Party should PM May delay Brexit by extending Article 50 and in the event of a delay support for the new party will go "through the roof", claiming, "We're the sword of Damocles hanging over the PM's head."

Additionally, Labour under leader Jeremy Corbyn announced it is prepared to back another EU referendum to prevent a "damaging Tory Brexit". Mr. Corbyn has told Labour MPs the party will move to back another vote if their own proposed Brexit deal is rejected on Wednesday. Labour's Emily Thornberry said if the parliamentary process ended with a choice of no deal or the PM's deal, the public should decide.

Mr. Corbyn said PM May is "recklessly running down the clock" in an attempt to "force MPs to choose between her botched deal and a disastrous no deal". Labour, who want the UK to remain part of the EU, have not yet made clear what their proposed referendum would be on, but a party briefing paper to MPs says that any referendum would need to have "a credible Leave option and Remain". Mr. Corbyn also said Labour would put down an amendment this week setting out its plan for a "comprehensive customs union" and "close alignment" with the single market.