THERESA MAY is not going to get much out of Brussels until after Valentine’s Day.
There are two reasons for this. First, EU leaders are fed up with her.
She signed off on a deal with them, assured them it could get through the Commons then lost by a record margin.
They are now sceptical when the British indicate that this or that change could get the deal through Parliament.
Despite the passing of the Brady amendment — saying the Commons would ratify the withdrawal agreement if the so-called backstop was replaced by alternative arrangements to prevent a hard border — the EU remains doubtful as to whether this is really the case.
No 10 acknowledges that things are not easy between Mrs May and EU leaders at the moment.
One member of her circle tells me they are “waiting for the anger to subside” before they head to Brussels.
A well-placed European source tells me there will be “nothing tangible in two weeks”.
But there is another reason, beyond their irritation, why the EU are holding off from engaging with Mrs May.
They want to see what happens when the Commons next votes on Brexit, on Valentine’s Day of all days.
It is expected that Yvette Cooper will bring back her amendment which would force the Government to seek an extension to Article 50 if it can not agree a deal with the EU.
If Cooper is passed, then the EU could be certain that Parliament would not allow the UK to leave the EU without a deal.
At that point, the EU would have little reason to offer up a significant concession.
They would know there was no danger of either short-term No Deal disruption, which would be particularly badly timed for the EU given the slow-down in the eurozone economy, or of the UK ending up pursuing a radically different economic course after Brexit.
However, if the Cooper amendment failed again, the EU would have to confront the fact that this process really might result in No Deal.
They could lose a withdrawal agreement that is good for them, and the backstop would have created the very thing it is meant to avoid — the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
In these circumstances, and with time ticking down, the EU would become more creative in its thinking.
The hunt would be on for face-saving ways to try to salvage the agreement.
This would not mean the EU would suddenly drop the backstop entirely.
But it would be more open to, say, a time limit on it.
With this change, the deal would stand a very decent chance of passing the Commons.
I understand there is a growing body of opinion in the ERG, the most powerful Brexiteer bloc in the Tory party, that a three-year time limit for the backstop — which could be extended to five in exceptional circumstances — could be acceptable.
Not all members of the ERG would take this.
But enough of them probably would to make up the missing numbers with Labour MPs.
Senior figures in the Government were encouraged by how many Labour MPs either abstained or voted against Cooper.
They believe these MPs can be persuaded to back a deal.
MOST READ IN OPINION
“There is a pool of Labour votes — and it is growing,” one Government source tells me.
Getting 30 Labour votes for a deal now seems doable.
Ministers and MPs must hang tight.
Now would be the worst moment to weaken the UK’s negotiating position.
Remainer gang of four sidelined
“I DON’T know who has got any idea,” one leading Cabinet minister tells me when I ask what Theresa May’s plan is.
The precise direction of the Government’s Brexit policy is still being debated. I am told “there is no set course”.
Inside the Cabinet, the arguments are far from over.
There are four Cabinet ministers – David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and Philip Hammond – who won’t even contemplate No Deal.
They are becoming increasingly outspoken in their warnings about it.
This group has no intention of piping down.
However, another set of Cabinet ministers are more worried about no Brexit than No Deal.
One of them tells me: “The most disastrous thing for us as a party is if Brexit doesn’t happen.”
Another minister tells me: “The battle is only going to intensify.”
But this gang of four is not as influential as they once were.
The key figure from the formerly Remain wing of the Cabinet is David Lidington, effectively May’s deputy.
“Liders is in the engine room. Hammond and Rudd are shouting from the sidelines,” one Tory insider tells me.
Lidington is, I understand, of the view that the cross-party talks could yield something on customs.
The idea would be that the UK would leave the common commercial policy, allowing it to do its own trade deals, but seek to develop a customs arrangement with the EU that would replicate other parts of the customs union.
If there is a deal, the big question is how does it get through the Commons?
One Cabinet minister tells me that they think Mrs May should make clear before the next vote that if her deal is defeated she would request a six-month extension to Article 50.
This Secretary of State believes it would squeeze the Tory Brexit ultras, making them choose between Mrs May’s deal and a Brexit delay.
Don’t go Boles-out for deselection
THE Labour Party is about to embark on a series of ideologically driven deselections – which is all the more reason for the Tories not to do the same.
Political parties must be broad churches to succeed and if the Tories set about deselecting everyone who takes a different view on how to achieve Brexit, they will risk turning themselves into an overly narrow faction.
For this reason, local Tories should stop thinking about deselecting Nick Boles.
He is wrong on ruling out No Deal, but he is right on housing and a whole host of other issues the Conservatives need to do more on.
He’s Olly gonna solo star
TENSIONS are mounting inside Government about the role of Olly Robbins, the PM’s chief Brexit adviser.
Robbins was, I’m told, deeply irritated by reports about potential changes to the UK negotiating team.
But, as one insider points out to me, there is a problem with Robbins going back to Brussels.
His professional pride means he is highly sceptical about whether there’s a better deal to be done.
The second problem is that this is now all about what deal will get through Parliament.
But Robbins, as a civil servant, understandably doesn’t have a finger-tip feel for that.
Mrs May should be relying on politicians to do this most delicate of renegotiations.
Parents get new kids screen time guidelines
CHILDREN should not spend more than two hours at a time on social media, according to Government advice to be issued on Thursday.
In response to a request from the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the Chief Medical Officer has drawn up the first Government guidelines on social media usage.
This advice is clearly sensible.
If these social media companies want to demonstrate some responsibility, they should start introducing a two-hour cut-off for all users under 18.
- James Forsyth is Political Editor of The Spectator.