As of this afternoon, we really are getting close to the endgame. Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters today: ‘If we have a deal we have a deal and there is no need for prolongation. That is the British view and that is my view too.’ According to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, when asked what would happen if Boris’s deal didn’t pass, Juncker replied: ‘I hope it will. I am convinced it will. If it doesn’t there will be no prolongation.’
How untypical of the European Commission President to do the UK government a favour, but he has helped Boris immeasurably by suggesting a Commons vote on the latest withdrawal bill is a binary option, without Remain on the order paper.
If this is official EU policy, in one little remark to reporters, Juncker has blown the Surrender Act, or Benn Act, out of the water. All that hurried drafting, all that late-night sitting, Bercow’s helpful device of allowing the Commons to vote on seizing control of the order paper – will have come to nought. Remainers can squeal all they like, but without EU agreement there can be no extension. If the EU refuses to play ball, there will be no prevarication, no further kicking Brexit into touch. It will be Boris’s deal or no deal. And surely, the Commons is not going to back no deal, so Boris will prevail.
That is a likely outcome now, but I am equally sure that arch Remainers aren’t quite going to lay down just yet. There is, however, one weapon left in their armoury: the nuclear option. Their only hope of getting their way now may be to repeat what they did in early September – to seize control of the Commons order paper again, and this time attempt to pass a quick act to revoke Article 50 and scotch Brexit for good.
Notionally, there is a majority to do this – in that most MPs campaigned to remain. Yet there is also a hefty majority in the Commons of MPs who stood in the 2017 election promising that they would honour the result of the referendum. Would Labour MPs and Conservative rebels – or rather former Conservatives-turned-rebels – really dare to go back on what they promised to do, on just about the most important and decisive issue of the day? You can bet some of them would. There will now be crisis meetings, sneaked words with John Bercow, and some kind of effort to stage another coup. But maybe they should ask Nick Clegg for advice before they do so – breaking pledges doesn’t go down too well with the electorate.
That’s why my money would be on Boris’s deal passing – though with a serious catfight from cornered Remainers over the next fortnight. And then we will leave. Who would have thought that, ultimately, it will be Jean-Claude Juncker to whom Brexiteers will want to raise a glass?