Can May do it? Here’s a thought.
The Prime Minister lost the second so-called “meaningful vote” on her Brexit deal by a margin of 149 in mid-March. That means she needs to turn 75 MPs over if she’s to win a third vote on the deal by one.
Despite members of the hardline ERG reluctantly falling in line behind May, hardcore Brexiteers have to date been unpredictable – certainly not worth risking your legacy on. Also flaky are the softer Brexiteers, who favor a customs union or a Norway-style Brexit.
Here’s a theory as to how May could pull it off.
First, she needs to square off the hardliners. Luckily for May, ERG chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg this morning tweeted that the choice was now “Mrs May’s deal or no Brexit”. If May’s deal gets approved this week, then the UK officially leaves the EU on May 22 – no more talk of standing in European elections and delaying Brexit for years.
Second, she needs to give softer Brexiteers a reason to back her. The indicative votes scheduled to take place in the Commons on Wednesday pave the way for a second public vote on the future relationship – or what kind of Brexit the UK wants. Options could include everything: no deal, a loose free trade agreement, a customs union, even rejoining the EU. The only option totally off the table would be Remain.
Finally, she could offer something that nearly every MP wants: her head. May survived the confidence vote in her leadership by saying she would not lead the Conservative Party into another election. It did the trick. One thing that unites the Commons is that no one wants May at the helm for future relationship negotiations.
This might just be enough to drag her deal over the line. But the triangulation required on May’s part underscores just how divided the Commons is. And given that, after Brexit, a huge amount of legislation needs passing, it’s hard to see this deadlock going away in the longterm. And the traditional way of ending such an impasse would be dissolving Parliament and calling a general election.