It might not feel like it after Monday’s press conference theatrics and the briefings coming out of Brussels, but there is still a chance of a Brexit deal.
It should be stressed that it is still odds against an agreement being reached. There has, though, been some shifting in positions in the last few weeks. The EU is now open to reworking the withdrawal agreement in a way that it simply wasn’t a month or so ago. The British government, the DUP and Dublin have all—to varying degrees—moved; meaning that there is now some hope of finding a way to replace the backstop. As one senior British government source puts it, ‘We have moved on SPS. They have moved on consent’.
If a deal can be reached, I think it will pass in parliament. There are two reasons for this. If the DUP can accept whatever alternative to the backstop is proposed, then that would give the plan a fair wind. It is hard for an MP to declare that they are objecting to something on Unionist grounds if the DUP are prepared to accept it. All but a handful of Tory Brexiteers would vote for a deal that the DUP could accept; even one of those who sounds most dogmatic in public admits in private that he would fold in behind Johnson in these circumstances.
Another reason to think that a deal would pass if one could be reached is, as I write in tomorrow’s magazine, that No. 10 and Brussels are discussing saying that a condition of any agreement is that no further extension will be offered. In other words, if MPs won’t take the deal, it will be no deal. MPs couldn’t use the Benn Act to try to delay Brexit in these circumstances, as no extension would have been offered. Indeed, the only option left for the Stop Brexit crowd would be to attempt to revoke Article 50.
In these circumstances, I think a majority of MPs would vote for the deal. Revoking without a referendum or a general election is too extreme a position for most of them and the Commons is extremely hostile to no deal, so–with a fair amount of grumbling—a deal would pass. We are, obviously, a long way off this point right now. But I think the chances of a deal are slightly higher than generally appreciated.