After Theresa May’s Brexit deal was defeated by 230 votes in the Commons last week, there was speculation that May would lean towards a softer Brexit in order to get a deal through. Despite holding a series of cross-party talks in this vein, that now looks unlikely. As James reports on Coffee House, May is expected to announce that she will continue to seek backstop concessions in a bid to win back Tory and DUP support.
Given the level of Brexiteer opposition to May’s deal, that may seem like a long shot. But it’s worth noting that in recent days, leading Leave MPs appear to have softened their opposition to the government’s plan. Jacob Rees-Mogg used an outing in the Mail on Sunday to suggest that he could back May’s deal – if he couldn’t get a preferable no deal outcome. Meanwhile, 1922 chair Sir Graham Brady penned an article for the Sunday Telegraph explaining why he didn’t vote for the deal – and why he would vote for it with just one concession on the backstop. Speaking on 5Live over the weekend, Brady spoke of his disappointment that the Murrison amendment – calling for a temporary backstop – wasn’t selected by John Bercow last week and therefore couldn’t be voted on. He said that if the amendment had been selected by the Speaker, it would have lessened May’s defeat and sent a signal to Brussels of what concession would be required to get a deal through.
This point taps into a wider concern. There is a sense of unease among some Brexiteers who voted against May’s deal that the bill’s historic defeat is being misread by both Brussels and fellow MPs. Eurosceptics had hoped it would show that the EU needed to give way on the terms of the backstop. Instead, figures in Brussels believe Brexit will only get softer as that’s the only way May can now get the numbers. Ahead of the Brexit vote, the Prime Minister tried to press on Brexiteers that they risked no Brexit at all if they rejected her deal. This line didn’t land and Leave MPs voted en masse against it. The events that have followed Tuesday’s defeat – including Nick Boles’ plan to thwart no deal – have made some Brexiteers think twice. A growing chunk worry that unless they get behind some form of May’s deal, the UK may not leave the EU after all. That said, such Leave MPs still need a ladder to climb down – and that means a concession on the backstop remains crucial.