Skip to Content

Coffee House

It’s highly unlikely that May’s deal will pass on the third vote

14 March 2019

8:50 AM

14 March 2019

8:50 AM

Everyone is getting over-excited. Calm down.

The idea that Theresa May will seize victory from the jaws of humiliation with her constitutionally dubious decision to put her Brexit deal to a vote for a record-breaking third time next week is highly questionable.

First even if the Attorney General admits with the full magisterial regret for which he is notorious that he stupidly excused from his initial interpretation of the palimpsested backstop that – after all – there is a unilateral escape route from the backstop via the Vienna Convention, this would be just one hired lawyer’s opinion, and an oddly convenient one at that.

It won’t change all Brexiters’ minds.

And as Steve Baker, their remorselessly rational leader said on my show last night, he won’t be bullied or bribed by the PM to change his mind and back her deal, even faced with the threat from her that Brexit could be delayed till long after we’re all dead.

So if Northern Ireland’s DUP MPs are seduced by Cox’s Viennese Waltz with Jacob Rees-Mogg (who right at the end of Tuesday night’s Brexit debate prompted Steve Barclay to ‘find’ Cox’s lost words on the benign impact of the Vienna Convention), some 20 odd Tory Brexiteers probably won’t be.

And May loses again.

But let us allow her to dream. Let’s assume her combination of Cox’s carrot and her NeverExit stick (her threat that the only allowable Brexit delay sees us participating in elections to the EU parliament) corals all the Tory ERG Brexiters, even then she would win by just the thinnest, most gossamer-like of margins.

And that’s a huge problem for her.

Because to make a legal reality of her deal, she then has to win a whole series of votes on the contentious facilitating legislation, most notably the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.

And as the business secretary Greg Clark also said on my show last night there is every chance she would fail to get that legislation through, even if she wins meaningful vote 3 next week.

For the avoidance of doubt EU leaders and Brussels negotiators are acutely aware that if she wins by just a handful of votes, her Brexit would still be in jeopardy. Which is why they will be wary at the EU council in seven days of giving the UK even a modest Brexit delay, were her vote to pass by one or two.

They and Clark want a much more comfortable margin of victory in the back-from-the-dead Brexit vote.

Which could only be delivered if, as Clark implies she must, she reaches across to Labour by scrubbing her red line that the UK must never join a customs union.

But that in turn could see Corbyn facilitating what his colleagues scornfully see as ‘May’s Brexit’ and permanently rupturing his party, given the religious passion of some Labour MPs and members for a referendum.

Every route to a rational, managed Brexit is fraught with challenges and contradictions.

The underlying Brexit reality is that chaos and uncertainty still rein.

And although at some point soon I may drop my central projection that a slightly delayed no-deal Brexit, in May or June, remains the probable outcome – because it is the default under UK and EU law, and the law is all we have – I have not done so yet.

Robert Peston is ITV’s Political Editor. This article originally appeared on his Facebook page


Show comments
Close