I still expect The Prime Minister to just find a majority for her vision of Brexit in the next three months. But having been right on the 2016 Referendum, I am probably heading for an “egg on my face moment”.
My prediction is based on the parliamentary arithmetic which suggests that Mrs May’s deal has more support than any of the other options. She is currently well short of the 320 she needs. However, her opponents are not close to agreeing an alternative whether that be, delaying our departure, a hard Brexit, hard Brexit with side deals, second referendum, Labour or a national government renegotiating the terms, Norway or Canada options. Before Christmas there seemed to be a majority to stop a hard Brexit if Mrs May’s deal was voted down. That can only be done by changing the law and laws can only be changed by a government not the House of Commons.
A recent survey suggested the Prime Minister could rely on 150 MPs in the Brexit Delivery Group. It also identified 65 waverers. I think the eerie calm that descended on the Brexit debate over Christmas may have led many of those into the May camp. Then there was a 20 strong group described as nervous Tory Remainers. As the clock ticks down, they may well head into the government’s camp.
Then we come to the Democratic Unionists, only ten of them but much more influential. If they can get the sort of annex of assurance over the backstop that the European Commission has a track record for producing, they could be brought on side. If this were to happen it would be hugely influential on Tory waverers and some Labour MPs. It is to Labour that we must now turn.
Given that the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid and the Green’s Caroline Lucas are going to vote against May’s deal, the largest bloc in her way is the 257 strong Labour Party. Some of them, especially in seats that voted to leave will come under increasing pressure to support the May deal as the government plays for time.
Nevertheless, a majority will stay loyal to the Corbyn strategy which is to cynically get us out of the EU whilst having no part in the Brexit deal and thus being able to criticise it from March 30th.
Labour will probably be joined by a group of Tory diehard Brexiteers. 117 Conservative MPs voted against her in last month’s leadership election but that does not mean they will all vote against her EU deal. The argument that their hard line could lead to Brexit not happening will erode their numbers to the point where I think Mrs May will squeak home, but it will be close.
OTHER THINGS WILL HAPPEN!
Let us hope that if we get through the immediate Brexit crisis that other things can be attended to like social care, housing and a boost for devolution. The Northern Powerhouse project has taken a credibility blow because of the chaos on road and rail. We need a renewal of the debate around regional government and in the meantime devolution agreements for Yorkshire, Cumbria, Lancashire and Warrington/Cheshire.
We will see what the public have made of our departure from the EU in the local elections in May. A third of the seats are up in our metropolitan and unitary councils with all out polls in the two Cheshire authorities and Blackpool.
We won’t be taking part in the democratic elections to the European Parliament in May because we’ve decided not to shape anymore the EU laws that will continue to affect our lives one way or another.
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