By what margin will Theresa May’s Brexit deal be defeated when it returns to the Commons after recess? The expectation in government is that it will be voted down for a fourth time – and the loss will be greater than on the third vote. The hope in Downing Street is that a bad result for both the Tories and Labour in the European elections will incentivise MPs to take what could be their last shot at passing the Withdrawal Agreement – ahead of a new Tory leader coming in and shaking things up. May is also set to unveil a host of changes – what you could call concessions – to the Withdrawal Agreement on workers’ rights and Parliament’s role in the negotiations in a bid to win more votes from across the House.
However, so far this pitch has had the opposite effect on Tory Eurosceptics. With May expected to announce her exit from Downing Street if her deal is defeated, many Tory Brexiteers believe it is now in their interest to vote the deal down and hope that the next leader – presumably a Brexiteer – can do better.
Notably, several leading Brexiteers who begrudgingly voted for the deal the last time round have suggested they will not do so again. Speaking at Monday night’s Telegraph debate on the future of the Conservative party, Dominic Raab indicated he will vote against it because he fears it’s a vehicle for a customs union. Meanwhile, Jacob Rees-Mogg has hinted on ConservativeHome‘s Moggcast that he too will withdraw his support: ‘It’s changed from being the start of a process a new leader could potentially run with to being a weight round the neck of a new leader. The dynamic has changed.’
There is a leadership element to all this. Members of the European Research Group suggest that they will choose who to support out of Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson depending on whether they back the deal next month. If they back it, they will lose some Brexiteer support. On the other end of the spectrum, a decision to not vote for the deal could see any leadership candidate lose support from other wings of the party. However, the rise of the Brexit Party has led several candidates and MPs to believe that a rejection of the Brexit deal is now the best way forward. They note that Nigel Farage has already questioned the Brexiteer credentials of Raab and Johnson after they voted for the deal once. To do so a second time, they argue, would only give Farage more ammunition.