As Theresa May attempts to reopen negotiations on the terms of the backstop, there is a view in Downing Street that May won’t be able to win any substantial changes until Yvette Cooper’s no deal amendment has been defeated for a second time. The Prime Minister will put down a neutral motion next Wednesday and amendments to that motion are expected to be voted on the following day. The expectation is that Cooper will bring back her amendment which would force the government to try and extend Article 50 if a no deal scenario looked likely.
There’s a concern in government that this time the amendment could pass. A number of Tory MPs may become more anxious about the prospect of no deal when it’s two weeks closer ad a deal still doesn’t look imminent. But if it did pass, it would make it much harder for May to win any concessions – and set the UK on a path to a softer form of Brexit. Yet there is reason to believe that the opposition to Cooper’s plan remains strong – and in part that’s because of the public mood. Despite all the no deal warnings, the idea of the UK leaving the EU without a deal has been growing in popularity among Leave voters. New polling suggests it is now the preferred outcome with a majority of those who voted to Leave. Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Lisa Nandy – the Labour MP for Wigan – said that she had been ‘overwhelmed’ in recent weeks with emails from constituents who want to leave without a deal. It’s something Ross Clark has observed too. He has noted on Coffee House that there has been a shift in mood in the Question Time audiences recently – showing impatience with those who show sympathy with the idea of delaying Brexit.
Now one frustration on the UK side is that there is a view in Brussels that if the EU pushes it to the wire, Britain could change course – a second referendum could follow and Remain would win. This was the point ‘People’s Vote’ campaigners expected to be seeing a big shift in public opinion but instead the opposite is beginning to happen. But even if Brussels doesn’t take this into account, there is one material effect it could have and that’s on MPs representing Leave seats. It’s not that they’re becoming more inclined to embrace a WTO Brexit – but it is making them think twice about May’s deal – and some are going off the idea of being held responsible for delaying Brexit indefinitely. Notably, Nandy used her Today interview to say that although she had initially voted against the Withdrawal Agreement, she would now consider backing it so long as there were guarantees of MPs getting a say on the future relationship:
‘There is a growing awareness that we’ll all going to have to find room to compromise in order to avoid that cliff edge Brexit and to take us into a process of orderly transition.’
Meanwhile, those Labour MPs who voted against the Cooper amendment – made up of MPs in Leave seats including Ian Austin, Caroline Flint and John Mann – have been buoyed by the response they have got from constituents. It follows that the reaction from voters means that MPs may think twice for a second time when the Cooper amendment returns.