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Prime Minister Theresa May offers a “new” Brexit plan, but nobody’s buying it

Her attempts to woo the opposition — including a proposed vote on a second referendum — backfired with Brexiteers.

Theresa May Speech To Reveal New Brexit Deal
Prime Minister Theresa May gives a speech outlining a new Brexit deal, which is basically the same as the old Brexit deal, on May 21, 2019.
Kirsty Wigglesworth-WPA Pool/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

British Prime Minister Theresa May offered a “new” Brexit plan Tuesday, in a last-ditch effort to get her still-unpopular Brexit deal approved.

But May largely failed to deliver on the “new” part. Instead, she outlined a 10-point strategy that repeated compromises or plans she’s previously offered. The prime minister did offer a few notable concessions, specifically a vote on a second referendum and a vote on a type of post-Brexit customs arrangement with the EU.

It’s noteworthy that May is giving members of parliament (MPs) a chance to decide whether they want to hold a second referendum — basically, some sort of public vote on Brexit — because this is something she’s staunchly resisted before. But the prime minister didn’t offer many specifics about the referendum, including whether she supported it, how it would be executed, or what the public would even be asked.

May’s other concession, on the customs union — where EU members trade without tariffs and minimal customs checks — offers a choice that will please neither the pro-Brexit camp in her Conservative Party or the opposition Labour Party. May proposed a vote on whether MPs want a temporary customs union membership after Brexit, or a plan for a “customs arrangement” that would allow the UK to trade with the EU, but still pursue its own independent trade policy.

The referendum and customs arrangement concessions are attempts to win over opposition Labour party members even after talks between May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn broke down last week. But these offers likely don’t go far enough. Corbyn has already said nope, not a chance.

“It’s basically a rehash of what was discussed before,” Corbyn said Tuesday.

So this push to win over Labour failed — and it also backfired among the hardcore Brexiteers who already despise May’s Brexit deal and won’t like it any better now. Many only voted for it on the third try because they thought it was the only way to get her out of office. Brexiteers largely oppose any sort of customs arrangement with the EU after Brexit, and most don’t want to attempt a second referendum.

To be clear, May is only giving MPs the opportunity to vote on these options, so they can (and may) be voted down. But it’s still infuriated Conservatives MPs who don’t want these options on the table at all. May hasn’t gained any new backers, and nearly two dozen who voted for her deal the last time around have said they won’t support her on this latest attempt, according to the Guardian.

One minister told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that May has managed to “take something bad and make it truly worse.”

Of course, there were 10 points in May’s speech. Surely, you ask, there had to be something good in there? By way of an answer, I leave you with this analysis from the Guardian’s Peter Walker, which perfectly captures both the utter exasperation over Brexit and May’s impossible situation.

Walker notes that, in her speech, May repeated promises she already made before — including on workers’ and environmental rights. He points out May’s futile attempts to compromise. On the customs arrangement proposal, he writes: “who will like it? Potentially, no one.”

Put another way, May’s “serious offer” to MPs is pretty much doomed.

The prime minister had previously said that she would set a timetable for her departure after the vote on her Brexit plan and the necessary legislation to get the UK out of the European Union before the October 31, 2019 deadline.

That’s tentatively scheduled for the first week in June. Conservatives who are eager to replace May will want her out as soon as possible — even though whoever takes over as the next prime minister will inherit the exact same Brexit mess.