THERESA MAY has one last hope for getting her Brexit deal through. She can The PM must bring her Withdrawal Agreement Bill to Parliament sooner or later and try and get MPs to vote for it.
Not John Bercow, or anyone else, can stop her from using this as a fourth attempt to get her deal through.
But if MPs defeat it again, then Mrs May will have nothing left in the locker. Bringing the deal back if it is voted down would require a new Queen’s Speech, something that Mrs May would struggle to pass.
“You get one shot at the WAB and then you’re done”, one May loyalist admits. This is why there’s such intense debate in the heart of Government about when to bring this bill to the Commons.
Number 10 is more gung-ho than the Brexit Department, which worries about the consequences of bringing the bill and losing it. One ally of Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay tells me that his view is that “there’s no point in introducing this until you have a chance of winning”.
Some in Number 10 still hold out hope that an arrangement might be reached with Labour that would allow a vote on the bill BEFORE the European elections, which take place in 12 days’ time.
One Cabinet minister says that May is prepared to make concessions to get a deal: “People are underestimating how prepared she is to do it. She thinks the future of the party is better served by her doing it and going down with the ship.”
But most are sceptical that these talks will come to anything. However close the two sides get to a technical agreement, the politics of it are just too difficult. Even those on the Labour side who favour a deal fear that they could expend political capital on it, only to find it doesn’t have the numbers in the Commons.
There’s no point in introducing this until you have a chance of winning.
If a deal with Labour can’t be done, what are other options? Well, one idea being discussed is that the bill might be published before the European elections — but that any vote on it would be delayed until after the Commons has held a series of votes, which the Government would accept the result of, on the various Brexit options.
The thinking is that if this can find what a majority of MPs would accept, it would ease the bill’s passage. But the problem with this is that last time votes on Brexit options were held, NOTHING got a majority.
Another group think the best plan is a straight vote on the bill but not until after the European elections. They believe that after a set of European election results which are bound to be disastrous for the Tories, Mrs May will be under pressure to say what she is going to do next — and bringing a vote on the WAB provides her with an answer.
Some optimists hope that if Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party has made big gains from Labour as well as the Tories in the European polls, there might be more MPs on the Labour side who just want to get Britain out of the EU.
This would slow the Brexit Party’s momentum and make it a less formidable force at any general election. A vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill really would be Theresa May’s last roll of the dice. I understand that Downing Street has considered doing it half a dozen times now, only to back away for fear of losing.
But this limbo can’t go on much longer. At some point, soon, Mrs May is going to have to take the risk.
They’ll swing if May isn’t winning
NEXT week Theresa May meets the executive of the 1922 Committee to discuss their request for more clarity about her departure plans.
The meeting, pencilled in for Thursday, will go a long way to determining May’s future.
One plan being discussed in Downing Street would see May outlining to the executive a schedule for her departure which goes like this.
If her Brexit deal passed, May would resign as party leader, triggering a summer leadership contest. The candidates would tour the country, with the final events of the contest at the Tory conference in October.
Voting would then take place soon after that, with a new leader in place by the late autumn. A swing vote on the Committee, which voted nine to seven against allowing a fresh challenge to May’s leadership a few weeks ago, says this is “not what most people have in mind”. I am told that “moods are hardening somewhat because of the complete lack of activity”.
There hasn’t been a vote in the Commons chamber FOR A MONTH now.
If May doesn’t give the ’22 Executive a clear sense of when she plans to bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to a vote, I expect that after the European Elections they will look again – and favourably – at a rule change. May will then face a fresh no-confidence vote.
Tory leadership contest
THE candidates for the Tory leadership race are coming thick and fast. Just this week, Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom have indicated they’ll run.
The entry of these two Brexiteers into the race is tricky for Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, who are each hoping to be the Brexiteer standard bearer. The more crowded their side of the contest is, the more difficult it will be for them to build up any momentum.
DUP ‘will support Tories not PM’
THE decision by Theresa May to invite Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds, the party and Westminster leaders of the DUP, to Chequers this week shows how important rebuilding relations with this Northern Irish party is to the Government.
If May could get the DUP back on board, she would have a much better chance of both passing her Brexit deal and, crucially, being able to pass a Queen’s Speech.
But renewing the Tories’ confidence-and-supply agreement with the DUP, due for review next month, will not be easy.
Relations between them and May are, to put it mildly, strained.
One well-placed Tory tells me that they “don’t think the DUP will support her for another Queen’s Speech”. They added: “They’ll renew it with us, but not her”.
By-election blow makes for a small change UK
THE failure to agree a single, pro- second referendum candidate in the Peterborough by-election sums up the Remain side’s problem.
To have a chance of getting a second referendum, they need the Labour leadership’s support. But they won’t get that unless they can show that Labour will pay an electoral price for not backing a second referendum.
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Demonstrating that, however, risks alienating the Labour leadership. Indeed, the reason that plans to run a single candidate in Peterborough came a cropper was because of the fears that this would cost Labour the seat.
With Change UK, the pro-Remain political party set up by Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry and fronted by Heidi Allen, failing to break through, the pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to back a second referendum has eased.
The decision not to run a single, pro-second referendum candidate means that, whatever else it does, the Peterborough by-election won’t change that.
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