There was no great last-minute drama. The European Council signed off the Brexit deal in brisk fashion this morning, with leaders stressing that this is the best deal that they are going to offer the UK. But, of course, this doesn’t mean that everything is done and dusted. For now, Theresa May has to get this deal through parliament.
This morning there have been two reminders of how difficult this will be. First, Iain Duncan Smith confirmed that he will be voting against the withdrawal agreement. This is a blow as if IDS is voting against it, then the ERG rebellion is going to be north of 20—making it very hard to see a way through for this deal. At the same time, Lisa Nandy—one of the Labour MPs who had previously sounded sympathetic to voting for the deal—has said she won’t back it.
Part of May’s problem is that there is now a general sense that this deal won’t get through the Commons. For that reason—and because it is hard to love—lots of MPs don’t see why they should vote for it. May needs something to change the dynamics of this debate, to make MPs think it might pass and look at it afresh.
What May has going for her deal is that it offers more certainty than anything else. The EU has agreed it, so if parliament passes it there will be a two-year transition. Expect to hear ministers make this argument with increasing frequency in the next few days.
But given the parliamentary arithmetic, what we are essentially seeing is a very high stakes game of chicken between May and parliament. She is betting that if she keeps on this course, MPs will eventually bend to her will. But if they don’t, then there is going to be an almighty smash and the biggest constitutional crisis of the post-war era.