True to form, the gambit to separate out withdrawal terms from the rest of the package has failed in advance. For the DUP this wheeze may be even less attractive than the May deal as it doesn’t even include the legal assurances they rejected (courtesy Sam McBride of the Newslettter for the thought). Yet again the figures don’t add up for the Daily Telegraph and the entire media.
On Thursday night Mrs May still needed to persuade 52 Tory rebels to change their minds and agree to the Withdrawal Agreement for her to stand any chance of victory, but a hard core of around 20 Eurosceptics still insist they will never back down, with one saying he would not agree to it even with “a shotgun in my mouth”. Labour and the DUP both said they would vote against the Government. Mrs May spent 20 minutes on the phone to Jeremy Corbyn on Thursday but he told her he could not agree to her plan.
This from Robert Peston the prophet of Doom and No Deal on Brexit (Not) Eve .
If rejected, we’re out on April 12 without a deal, unless another way can be found to persuade the EU to delay Brexit. For the PM, the idea that tomorrow the UK will know it is leaving the EU and that she will know she is escaping Downing Street looks like wishful thinking on an epic scale. Her motion looks defeated before even being discussed.
For what it’s worth, and I pass this on not because I believe it true but because the sources are credible, there is a view in Whitehall and among some ministers that it’s all about setting up a choice for the UK between a long Brexit delay and a no-deal Brexit on April 12.
And having given signals that she hates both no-deal and long delay, the PM is preparing to jump for no deal, they say.
They may be wrong, but if no-deal Brexit is really Theresa May’s Plan B, the House of Commons does not – as yet – have a device to stop her.
That Theresa May would opt for NO Deal is a pretty alarmist conclusion. It puts a heavy onus on IV2 ( indicative votes 2) on Monday. Oliver Letwin and co would have been better advised to have adopted an alternative vote system from the start to create credibility and momentum and cut through the chaos. But according to the FT’s Henry Mance, they’re shunning it again in favour of doing the real business through negotiation behind closed doors, as in the coalition negotiations of 2010, when he was a leading Tory light. Not before time. The survival of such a wide range of options so late in the day shows how little most MPs have been talking to each across the aisle. Mrs May is not exclusively to blame for the failure to think outside the main party box, despite the deep divisions inside both of them. Labour has been just as guilty as the Conservatives in putting party before country. The abject failure of the cabinet to hold the prime minister to account during the whole process has resulted in the virtual collapse of cabinet government. This was anticipated by the arch insider Letwin and moved him to find a partial substitute in parliament.
Sir Oliver said the voting system on Monday would be a “plain vanilla replica” of the one used on Wednesday. MPs will be able to vote for as many plans as they want. There will be no mechanism for eliminating the least popular options in order to generate a winner, which means additional days of debate could be required. “This leaves it to the politicians to seek adjustments or to negotiate in ways that lead to a majority emerging,” said Sir Oliver.
The customs union would have won a majority had it received the backing of the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats or the Independent Group, all of whom instead held out for another referendum. A total of 311 MPs voted for the customs union, membership of the EU single market, or both. That is just short of a majority in the Commons.
Common Market 2.0 was the fourth most popular option on Wednesday, with 188 votes in favour. Its supporters took heart from how a large number of MPs abstained, rather than vote against. For example, the SNP abstained because the proposal pointed to tighter immigration controls, but it could be won over if that changes. The Democratic Unionist party, which wants to avoid regulatory differences between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland after Brexit, also abstained on the proposal, while its MPs voted against most other options.
Sir Oliver said the voting system on Monday would be a “plain vanilla replica” of the one used on Wednesday. MPs will be able to vote for as many plans as they want. There will be no mechanism for eliminating the least popular options in order to generate a winner, which means additional days of debate could be required. “This leaves it to the politicians to seek adjustments or to negotiate in ways that lead to a majority emerging”.
By refusing to support the latest vote on the withdrawal agreement, Labour sense a general election in the offing with themselves as the party of soft Brexit, fudging to Remain with a confirmatory vote which if rejected would keep us in the EU. With admittedly substantial dissident wings in both, it looks as if the parties will differentiate with the Conservatives becoming the party of hard Brexit. The result is incalcuable but the choice would help redefine the two main parties and stabilise the badly battered political system. Labour may want to force an election quickly to catch the Tories on the hop after a scratchy leadership contest. I would opt for the smoothy chops Jeremy Hunt as the uniting figure who would campaign Hardish but govern Softish.
Over the next three weeks Mrs May will try to wrap MV3 with or without the result of the indicative votes into the Withdrawal Bill before 12 April, to confirm leaving on 22 May. If even this fails under extreme pressure, I don’t believe No Deal will be the outcome. We will throw ourselves on the mercy of the EU and use the elections to the European Parliament as a trial run for a general election – all the while remaining in the EU.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London