The single most important fact in British politics, I say in the magazine this week, is that Theresa May does not currently have the votes to pass her Brexit plan even if she could get the European Union to accept it. ‘The numbers just don’t stack up’, one Cabinet Minister laments to me.
May’s problem is that there’ll be a sizeable Tory rebellion against the Chequers deal. One Cabinet Minister predicts that 60-odd Tories will vote against it and it is hard to see how May can get enough opposition MPs to back the deal to make up for it.
Compounding the situation for May is that both Tory Eurosceptic ultras and pro-European Labour MPs believe that they can get what they want by voting down her deal. Jacob Rees-Mogg and co think that if the deal is voted down, then Britain defaults to leaving the EU without a deal. They see the choice as being between Mrs May’s deal and leaving without a deal and trading on World Trade Organisation terms. Indeed, one of the things that led to Boris Johnson’s resignation was his conclusion that no deal would actually be preferable to the Chequers plan.
This is technically true. But it misses the political realities of the situation. Barely one in ten MPs supports the idea of a no-deal Brexit, and it is certain that the House of Commons would try to foist another solution upon the government. However chaotic the process, an alternative would be found. This is why it is hard to imagine pro-European Labour MPs rushing to back May’s deal. They’ll calculate that voting it down will either lead to a very soft Brexit or the whole process being abandoned.
We are heading into uncharted waters. All sorts of Brexit outcomes that I would have regarded as unlikely just a few months ago, are now distinct possibilities.