After her Brexit plan went down to the most resounding defeat in modern British history, Prime Minister Theresa May was told to come back with a Plan B.
She did that Monday.
But her Plan B looked a lot like Plan A, setting the stage for another battle royale with rebellious British lawmakers over Brexit, or the process of withdrawing Britain from the European Union.
Even though her plan was defeated in Parliament last week by 230 votes, Mrs. May told lawmakers on Monday that she still hoped to win them over by negotiating changes to the plan that many regard as cosmetic.
She told lawmakers that she could not rule out the possibility of leaving the European Union without any agreement, even though preventing that outcome is probably the one thing that a healthy majority in Parliament can agree on as a course of action.
She also said she did not believe there was a majority in Parliament for a second referendum that could reverse the whole process of withdrawal.
And she rejected the option of pivoting toward a model of Brexit that keeps closer ties to the European Union, an option more attractive to opposition lawmakers.
Instead, she appeared to double down on her gamble that, as the March 29 deadline for exiting the bloc approaches, lawmakers in Parliament will hold their noses and vote for her unpopular plan for fear of the alternatives — a no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all.
Given the scale of last week’s defeat in Parliament, Mrs. May’s response frustrated many lawmakers, including Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative, who wrote on Twitter that it was “like last week’s vote never happened.”
“Plan B is Plan A,” she said.
That has left the process more or less where it has been for months, with Mrs. May locked in a game of brinkmanship with opponents at home and in Brussels as the clock ticks down with no obvious solution in sight.
“I think her strategy has always been to postpone the vote until the very last minute, so that even those members of Parliament who are skeptical about her deal, but don’t want there to be no deal, would think twice about voting against it,” said Agata Gostynska-Jakubowska, a senior research fellow in Brussels for the Center for European Reform, a London-based research institute.
Mrs. May apparently still thinks she can somehow wring concessions from the European Union that will ultimately make her plan acceptable.
“I will be talking further this week to colleagues,” Mrs. May told lawmakers on Monday, adding that she “will then take the conclusions of those discussions back to the E.U.”
But that well has been tested before and turned up dry.
The bloc is insisting on a so-called backstop plan to avoid a border check on goods between Ireland and Northern Ireland that is anathema to pro-Brexit factions in Mrs. May’s own party.
But European Union officials have shown no signs of backing off their insistence on the plan.
Next week, Parliament is set to vote on a series of amendments designed either to rule out the possibility of a no-deal exit, to promote alternative forms of Brexit, or to give Parliament itself greater control over the process.
Ordinarily, the prime minister would try to resist holding these votes, but Mrs. May is allowing them partly in the hope that a significant number of Conservative lawmakers demand changes to the backstop plan.
She is then hoping to use that vote to persuade the European Union to change the plan.
The votes are scheduled for next Tuesday, and, even if they prove to be nonbinding, they could be a crucial test of what sort of solution Parliament might accept.
Paradoxically, Mrs. May could get another boost if the votes in Parliament show a big majority against leaving the European Union without a deal. She can then argue to Brexit supporters in Parliament that if they don’t vote for her deal, they risk no Brexit at all.
In recent days, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, described the prime minister’s deal as better than remaining in the European Union.
“I think that if it begins to look like it is basically Theresa May against those who want to thwart Brexit and stop it, she might find Conservative backbenchers who thought her deal wasn’t ‘hard’ enough become more and more sympathetic to it,” said Will Heaven, director of policy for Policy Exchange, a research institute based in London.
In part, it all depends on whether the European Union is willing to be flexible over the Irish backstop plan.
On Monday there was a brief flicker of hope for Mrs. May when Poland’s foreign affairs minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, suggested that a five-year limit on the backstop might be possible, if the Irish government supported the idea.
But that notion was rejected by the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney. Both the Irish and the British governments also denied news reports that they were considering a bilateral deal on the backstop to break the deadlock.
Ms. Gostynska-Jakubowska, the research fellow, said that while the European Union might be able to amplify its existing promises that the backstop would be temporary, there is “nothing that Brussels could offer that would go against the principles of the backstop,” adding “we are in a stalemate.”
Though his party is also split on Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour Party leader in Parliament, perhaps spoke for many when he asked: “What makes her think that what she tried to renegotiate in December will succeed in January? This really does feel like Groundhog Day.”
Orignially published in NYT.