Theresa May could see her government “cut out” of the negotiating process if she can’t persuade MPs to accept an alternative to her heavily-defeated Brexit deal, says a leading academic.
The Prime Minister’s proposed legislation on the terms the UK will leave the EU was rejected in the House of Commons on Tuesday by 432 votes to 202.
That defeat was greater than any in the past century, and prompted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to table a vote of no confidence in the government which May survived on Wednesday.
She must now present an alternative plan on Monday, but Liverpool Hope University politics lecturer Dr Danny Rye believes the Prime Minister remains on deeply uncertain ground.
“This is such a huge rejection of her plan that it’s very difficult to see how she can work her way through this, particularly given that she seems unwilling to shift her position,” he said.
“The EU have indicated that they are willing to talk again but only if the Prime Minister’s ‘red lines’ shift. So far she has shown no signs of changing.
“We’re currently stuck in an impasse and it looks increasingly like the blockage to moving forward is her.
“For Mrs May immigration, or free movement, is a big thing. You only have to think back to the ‘go home or face arrest’ messages on buses which were sent out when she was home secretary.
“It seems like she is the architect of her own problems.”
Dr Rye said the decision to pursue cross-party consensus could come too late for the Prime Minister.
“She could have chosen to take a different path back in 2016 after the referendum or after losing her majority in the general election in 2017,” he said.
“She could have decided to govern through Parliament to see what they can reach a consensus on.
"The vast majority of MPs were willing to implement the referendum result and the big issue was how to do it.
“It seems to me, someone in her position ought to have tried to see what was possible and work with that to avoid all this division in the commons.
“If I were her I would want to take control of the process and she isn’t really doing that.
“If no compromise can be reached there is a very real possibility of Parliament taking the process on and cutting the Government out of it.
“That would probably be the nearest we could get to revolution.”
The scale of the defeat of May’s plan also means she will have a sizeable task on her hands in reaching a compromise, added Dr Rye.
“In the end, regardless of what position people take you will now have to come up with something that will get a couple of hundred votes either side of the divide,” he said.
“Her defeat was almost unprecedented in modern times.
“On Monday she has to present her Plan B. The sensible thing to do is structure a vote through the alternative scenarios; no deal, a soft Brexit with a ‘Norway’-style option, or another referendum.
“If there is no majority for any of them she can turn around and ask ‘well what’s better than my deal?'
“But what actually happens next is anyone’s guess. It’s an extraordinary state of affairs."
The increasing uncertainty could also take a heavy toll on small businesses in the UK, according to Tony Bradley, a lecturer in Social Economy at the Liverpool Hope University Business School.
“What business needs is certainty,” he said. “It has been said a thousand times in recent months. Well, this is a certainty of sorts.
“We are certainly in uncharted waters, with the storm lashing the mainsail and the masthead about to break.
“Britannia not only doesn't 'rule the waves' she is shipping water fast, even in an Atlantic port city such as Liverpool, facing away from Europe, towards the wider world.
“The reality, of course, is that most sane businesses and almost all are exactly that, will have considered their contingencies.
“The problem is that for small businesses, in particular, they rise and fall with the tide. They don't have the power or the scale to ride out a storm surge. And this looks like a tsunami, albeit one that we had ample warning about.
“But, another thing is certain, in this turmoil, our politics has changed inexorably. It is the turn of communities, resilient social economies and cities with a strong sense of their own identity and commitment to local solidarity that will fare best, by pulling together.”
Mr Bradley believes Liverpool can be a shining example of that resilience.
“There is absolutely no reason why Liverpool shouldn't be at the head of that movement,” he added.
“Which is not complacency or an "I'm all right, Jack" mentality. It is a statement of confidence in our city and its people, even as the waves of potential chaos sweep across the land.
“In that spirit Liverpool business can ride out the storm. And, we must.”