Although no-one yet knows what the government’s compromise meaningful vote amendment will look like when it returns to the Lords, there’s a growing feeling in Westminster that it is the Tory Remain rebels who have the upper hand. Even if the government doesn’t go far enough to appease these MPs in its verbal promise of some kind of ‘meaningful’ say on the final deal, this group are bullish and increasingly confident that they can tie the government’s hands the next time the bill returns.
This has led to increasing concern among the Brexiteers. Talk of ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ is now viewed as a hollow threat. Even with no meaningful vote, there’s the not-so-small issue that few in Brussels believe the UK has done enough to prepare for the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
This means that those in the Brexit camp are scratching their heads for a way forward. Three main options are doing the rounds. As I say in the i paper today, Brexiteers, seen to be in the Gove ‘pragmatic Brexiteer’ camp, recognise that the negotiations and No 10’s tactics are not advantageous to their aims. However, with nine months to go until Britain leaves the EU, this group don’t believe there is enough time to prepare for a ‘no deal’ scenario, so think their best bet is to continue with May’s plan but then, when we have left, take control, get a Brexiteer in the Treasury and start making the necessary preparations for trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms. Once that is done, you return to the EU and say we want a better deal – or the whole agreement is scrapped.
However, a rival group of Brexiteers worry that Brexit boredom will take hold of voters and by the time of the next election, the last thing the public will want to vote for is a party that wishes to reopen the Brexit debate and start again. This group think that the only option is throw their toys out of the pram now, take drastic action, change negotiating tactics and see where they get with ‘no deal’ planning.
The final option is to sit back and let Brussels do the job for the Leave camp. Some former Leave campaigners think that Michel Barnier won’t be able to help himself and will push it so far that not even those MPs advocating a soft Brexit can go ahead with it. For example, Brussels do something like put freedom of movement back on the table. At that point, the deal could become so bad that it would be too politically toxic for Theresa May to advocate – and a sizeable number of Labour MPs to back.
The problem is none of these options are foolproof and all lead to more questions than they provide answers.