Today was meant to be the day that parliament decided on Brexit. But this parliament will always choose to postpone that moment. By voting for the Letwin amendment by 322 to 306, the Commons chose to avoid stating whether it backs the new Brexit deal or not.
The next key moment will come on Monday when there will be a meaningful vote on the deal. Judging from the vote on the Letwin amendment, Boris Johnson has 306 solid votes both for his deal and a programme motion that would get the legislation through by the 31 October. So he needs to find 14 more votes between now and then. Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles have both indicated that they would back both the deal and the programme motion. This means the whips have 72 hours to find the other dozen votes they need.
This Saturday has been an anti-climax and Boris Johnson will have to send a letter requesting an extension that he has been desperate not to send. But it is not that bad a day for him. He now has 306 votes in the bank for his deal, twenty more votes than May’s deal ever got, and 72 hours to find the other 14 he needs with his whips knowing precisely which pools to fish in. At the same time, his dream of leaving on the 31 October is still alive.
I suspect that the large section of the public who just want this matter dealt with will blame parliament not the government for the failure to reach a decision today.
If the UK doesn’t end up leaving on the 31st, I now doubt that Boris Johnson would suffer politically for that.
Indeed, I think that if he blamed an obstructionist parliament for the failure to leave, he would get a boost in the polls as he is now able to appeal both to those who want Brexit done come what may and those who want to leave but only with a deal.