Can May hold it together or enough defectors pull it apart to strike a deal by 29 March?

British politics has reached the surreal stage as the No Deal deadline approaches. Although aware of the  mounting panic at the prospect of No Deal in the real world, they  seem too  absorbed by their own  battles  and intrigues to rise to the level of events and be relied on to meet their self imposed deadline of 29 March. Or else like most of us they secretly believe the other guy will do it  for them, the EU, a cross party majority, Mrs May – anybody for Chrissakes . Now with both parties crumbling at the edges, the race is on to discover if she can pull of a deal with the EU that the majority of Tory MPs   can accept  (now three votes shorter)  and drag enough odds and sods with her , or a new cross party alliance can take control, next week, the following week or the week after that. The Irish Times, not so close to Westminster sources as some, deftly hedges its bets but errs on the side of hope.

“Trouble ahead amid talk of imminent Brexit breakthrough.”

The example of Labour breakaway followed by the prominent Tory Remainers Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston is not expected to start a flood  at this delicate stage- although who really knows except themselves if they exist?   It has certainly  prized open the fundamental split in Labour over tactics as well as  their  very identity.  While John McDonnell the “poundland Marxist” vows that the leadership will listen “very very carefully” to criticisms, Labour Central moves on to the offensive to demand loyalty pledges to Corbyn and  threatens  the secessionists with recall petitions to force by elections. They just might have enough cadres to pull it off;  but before they do  they might contemplate the risk in some constituencies  of  letting  Tories in, or even UKIP.

At the same time Labour is nervous that  Mrs May will issue  them with the challenge they can’t refuse for  a general election to exploit Labour divisions in the event of a deal. This would also be the Independent group’s nightmare; for it could kill them off before they get organised .

I’m puzzled as to why the Independent group went the whole hog at this stage to quit their  parties, when the evidence was clear  they could have formed a cross  party alliance with the SNP and Lib Dems  to  support the Cooper amendment to take control and force May’s hand next week. No doubt they are hoping that one way or another, this will be the impact of the defections anyway. Their common factor is support for a second referendum, currently not favoured by the Commons as a whole   There must be real concern that they will provoke defensive responses from both party leaderships that end up   continuing the parliamentary deadlock  between May’s deal and various  other Brexit options and a few in favour of No Deal. The defections don’t add up to a force for cohering round a solution or tipping the balance in favour of their own.The best they can do is tilt the balance in tight votes.   The best insurance against disaster must be the threat of cabinet resignations to force Mrs May to take No Deal “ off the table” and ask for an extension of Article 50 to  give time to decide at last which way to jump – the exclusively Tory way or via a cross party  agreement.   It would be truly amazing if  attorney general  Rumpole was able ro spin a verdict that reverses his older one to the satisfaction of enough ERG, now that the vacuous Malthouse amendment is the one off the table.  The super smooth  foreign secretary  Jeremy Hunt in as statement in Berlin today was almost pleading with Juncker to pretty please give  May what she needs tonight , as he reduced her demands  to a tiny wee “simple  but important change” to the Northern  Ireland backstop.

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