To reinforce what I said about the gravity of tomorrow’s vote, rumours are swirling that Dominic Cummings – the PM’s chief aide – wants to lose (I am not persuaded!) the vote so he can purge Grieve and any other rebel Tories and then take on Corbyn’s Labour before the next EU council on 17 October.
He may now feel this the best platform to honour Boris Johnson’s pledge to leave the EU by 31 October. This is quite the game of chicken.
What is clear to me is that events will move very fast if Johnson loses tomorrow – because Johnson will not want his authority damaged by a whole week of defeats at the hands of the opposition and rebel Tories.
In a nutshell, here is the dilemma for Tory rebels and the opposition Labour Party. If they lose vote tomorrow, they lose their best chance of blocking a no-deal Brexit. And if they win, Johnson will say they have undermined him and forced him to hold a general election on a day before 17 October.
In my estimation Boris Johnson actively wants to fight Labour and a disunited opposition, so long as they trigger the general election and he is seen to be resisting it – so that he can claim he is only going back to the country to honour the people’s earlier vote for Brexit.
This may be a bluff. But it does not feel like one. Because Johnson only has a future in 10 Downing Street if he marginalises the Brexit party and if he secures a working majority. Otherwise he will be the lamest of lame-duck PMs and one with minimal political life expectancy.
A problem for Hammond or Gauke or other rebel Tory MPs who may embrace being kicked out of the Conservative party to run as an independent candidate in a looming general election is they can’t brand themselves as ‘Independent Conservatives’ on the ballot paper, the Electoral Commission tells me. Unless that is they are given permission to create a new party called the ‘Independent Conservatives’, or something similar. But they might not get permission.
And anyway there probably isn’t time for them to jump through all the hoops to do that before a likely October election. So Cummings and Johnson may be less scared of them standing against official Conservatives than the rebels think.
Robert Peston is ITV’s Political Editor. This article originally appeared on his ITV News blog