We have got used to a lot of odd things in British politics recently. Many of the usual rules have been suspended: Theresa May has survived losing her majority in an election she called and we’ve seen the departure of not one, but two Brexit Secretaries.
But tonight she will defeated by a massive margin on the central plank of her governing programme. The consequences of this will be unpredictable—which is precisely why the government pulled the vote in December. Things could spiral out of Theresa May’s control very quickly.
So far, the government looks out of luck in its attempt to limit the damage. There hasn’t been anything like the change of mood needed among Tory MPs to keep this defeat respectable and it doesn’t look like an amendment is going to come to their rescue.
When she speaks after the vote, Theresa May would like to say that she’ll go back to Brussels, tell them why the Commons doesn’t like the deal and seek changes. But the expected scale of the defeat will make it hard for that to sound credible.
In an odd way, if Jeremy Corbyn does go for a no confidence motion straight away it might help May. It would shift the focus on to whether the government could survive that, rather than what Plan B is. At the moment, it looks like May would survive that no confidence vote as the DUP will stick with her for now as would the ERG, and it doesn’t look like Corbyn is prepared to make the promise on a second referendum that might tempt some Tories into the lobby with him. But even if she survives the confidence vote, May’s essential problem will remain: what kind of Brexit deal can get through the Commons?