MPs have 10 days to pass Theresa May’s Brexit deal or calamity strikes, I say in The Sun this morning. May’s deal is far from perfect. But what will happen if it doesn’t pass is truly appalling.
If May’s deal hasn’t won a Commons vote by March 12th, the Commons will vote on whether to proceed with no deal. The parliamentary arithmetic is such that no deal will almost certainly be defeated. The next day, parliament will then vote on whether to request an extension from the EU. This vote will almost certainly pass.
At this point, the United Kingdom would be in the weakest position it has ever been in this negotiation. Whether to grant an extension or not would be up to the EU and would require all 27 member states to agree. It would also be up to the EU to decide how long an extension to offer.
If parliament accepted the terms of the extension, then there would almost certainly be another effort by MPs to take control of the Brexit process. If they succeeded, Brexit would become softer still. At the very least, Parliament would try and commit the UK to staying in a permanent customs union with the EU. Some would push for a full ‘Norway plus’ style solution which would see the UK stay in both the single market and the customs union.
The only way to sidestep this scenario is for May’s deal to pass by the 12th. But given that it lost last time round by 230 votes, a record defeat for a government bill, this is a hard ask.
Theresa May’s plan for getting it through has been to get something on the backstop to reassure MPs that it won’t be permanent. Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, has been deputed with doing this. The key is can he get enough to satisfy the DUP. If he can, then the Tory rebellion will reduce to a manageable size.
Along with the government chief whip, Cox met the DUP on Wednesday night. The verdict of one senior DUP source after that meeting is that the government is ‘not there yet’ on getting enough for them to come on board. Some leading DUP figures think that the move by Cabinet Ministers to try and take no deal off the table has made it less likely that Cox can get enough to satisfy them.
‘It’s tricky. Barnier isn’t yielding, the Irish aren’t yielding’ complains one Cabinet Minister.
At the moment, there’s little optimism in Number 10 about being able to hold a meaningful vote next week. That means that the government will only have one chance to turn round a 230 vote defeat.