The DUP has confirmed that it will be voting against Theresa May’s Brexit deal this evening. A party spokesman said that ‘sufficient progress has not been achieved at this time’ and that ‘it is clear that the risks remain that the UK would be unable to lawfully exit the backstop were it to be activated’. Along with the European Research Group’s recommendation to vote down the deal, this means that the Prime Minister’s strategy of trying to win over the DUP and the Brexiteers in her own party has failed. It means that she is facing a landslide defeat tonight.
The Commons benches behind the Prime Minister as she is giving her speech at the start of the debate are eerily empty, almost as if a good number of Conservative MPs can’t face being there to watch government disintegrating. Some are urging her to delay the vote by 24 hours to give MPs time to debate the deal properly – and, of course, to find some kind of compromise. Others are pressing her on whether there is any chance of further negotiating from the European Union, to which May has insisted that this is the very best deal she can get from leaders. She had to ‘pursue the art of the possible’, she claimed.
There is a split in the European Research Group about whether to back the deal or not, despite its official recommendation. But it’s difficult to see the numbers aligning for May to succeed. Now that a defeat tonight seems inevitable, the whips will be trying to work out how to manage the next few days. Chief Whip Julian Smith’s phone appears to be melting in his hand on the front bench. Wherever the missing Tory MPs are, he will be trying to find them in an attempt to shore up the Prime Minister.