If Theresa May needed any reminder of what a mountain she has to climb to get her Brexit deal through, she got it in the House of Commons this afternoon. Any hope that getting the deal agreed with the EU 27 might give her momentum was dashed as MP after MP stood up to criticise the agreement. Not one MP supported it in the first hour of the session.
In part, the wall of hostility came from the Speaker calling those known to be hostile to the deal. But what should most worry May was how critical Michael Fallon, the former defence secretary, was of her deal. If party loyalists, men of government types such as Fallon are having doubts about whether to support it, then it is very hard to see how any Tory rebellion can be kept down to a manageable level.
There are 15 days to the meaningful vote in the House of Commons. It would be one of the great political turnarounds in modern times if this deal was to go through given the current parliamentary hostility to it. It is now extremely hard to see how it can pass without some external event coming to the government’s aid.
Watching as so many MPs attacked the deal, I was left thinking that if I was Mrs May, I might be wondering whether a referendum would be my best chance of getting this agreement over the line. After all, the country doesn’t seem as entrenched in its hostility to this deal as the Commons does, and the enticement of a referendum might help her get some more opposition support. But, obviously, set against that is that this course would split the Tory party.
Theresa May is not a politician who likes to change course. She will continue in this game of chicken with the Commons, betting that enough of them will back down at the last minute to get it through. But right now, that looks a very distant possibility. This country is heading for uncharted waters.