One might have expected today’s Commons statement to go rather badly for Theresa May. After all, she had gone to the European Council seeking legal and political assurances and come back with very little. Her anger was shown by the way she confronted Jean-Claude Juncker over his description of her as ‘nebulous’. But it actually turned out rather well for her.
May’s decision to say that the meaningful vote will take place in the week of the 14th of January meant that Jeremy Corbyn’s threat – that he’d call a no confidence vote in her personally, if she wouldn’t name a date for the meaningful vote – lost whatever force it might have had. Without that, Corbyn’s response lacked impact and direction. May’s reply to him was one of the shortest I can remember from a Prime Minister to a leader of the opposition. But in this instance, that felt more like a reflection on him than her.
But, perhaps, more significant is the fact that Nigel Dodds was less hostile in his questioning than he has been in recent weeks. When May told him that she was seeking legal and political reassurances on the backstop, Dodds didn’t nod. But unlike with almost every other May response to him in the last month or so, there wasn’t a shake of the head. This might seem small, but it does suggest that this door is not entirely closed to the Prime Minister.
Now, it might seem unlikely that May can get enough on the backstop to satisfy the DUP. But today does suggest that there is still a chance, even if it is slim, of that happening. If, as various figures close to her have been pointing out, May can somehow get the DUP to accept her deal then she has a chance of getting it through Parliament.