15 Nov 2018

The Tory “no deal uprising”

The ERG faction within a faction pushing for Theresa May to go hasn’t pulled off its mission yet. Sir Edward Leigh, who attended the group’s meeting this lunchtime but isn’t going to send a letter demanding a vote of no confidence, told me that this is in essence a “no deal uprising.” He said his colleagues worry that if the newly unveiled deal brought home by Theresa May is defeated by MPs, the Prime Minister would simply “panic and do a deal with Corbyn” rather than allow no deal.

In No. 10 tonight they are still pondering how they fill the slots vacated by departing ministers. It sounds like Michael Gove was offered the job of Brexit Secretary but that may have prompted a crisis of political identity in the soul of the one Brexiteer who gave full-hearted support to the PM’s deal at yesterday’s Cabinet.

The “resignations over Brexit” tally got six new additions today (counting resignations from government and party jobs). It now stands at 19. If you’ve resigned from a job on principle against the Brexit deal it must make you near a certainty to vote against the deal in Parliament. Factor those 19 MPs alone into the Commons arithmetic (not counting others who say they’d oppose the deal), add the DUP MPs who seem to have all but torn up their agreement to support this minority government, and you end up with Theresa May needing 22 Labour MPs to win the vote.

Quite what any new Brexit Secretary does in the remaining months before March next year, the Brexit date, is a moot point. There is no clarity in government who takes over the future relationship negotiations and if it was Michael Gove or (as the job has usually been allocated) another Brexiteer, things might move in a very different direction from the one that Theresa May has set her heart on.

Her supporters emphasise how the “sliding scale” approach on the future customs arrangement would mean the more we adopt the rules of the level playing field with the EU, the more frictionless the trade we get. There’s an awful lot of friction in the backstop customs arrangement. You sense the dream still lives in Team May that something like the Common Rule Book idea can live on in negotiations on a future relationship the other side of Brexit.

But for now the challenge is making sure that the Prime Minister lives on at all and that the deal for getting out of the EU somehow gets passed in Parliament.

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