The deal that will not die

Not for the first time in this saga, what seemed settled 24 hours ago is now up in the air again. After a series of parliamentary votes chaotic even by recent standards, we seem to be in a position where it looks like Theresa May could yet salvage her deal.

The day started with the government tabling a motion supposedly ruling out a no-deal exit. Closer examination revealed that it did nothing of the sort. A backbench amendment which expressed unequivocal opposition to no-deal then narrowly passed, prompting May to abandon her promise of a free vote, and to attempt to whip her party against the now-amended motion. This failed, as numerous Tories, including cabinet ministers, defied her orders.

In response to this defeat May announced that, given that parliament had thrown out her deal, which is clearly the only deal on offer, the alternative was a lengthy postponement of the leaving date, with all that entails, including participation in the European elections, and perhaps the loss of Brexit altogether. She suggested that she would give those in her party who wished to avoid such an outcome one more chance to back the agreement they overwhelmingly rejected only yesterday.

Will this work? The early indications are that the hard-core of the ERG will maintain their opposition come what may, but some of the less fanatical Brexiters may be wavering.

Anything could happen though, since there are so many unknowns. Will the EU agree to any length of delay? Would the ERG be willing to bring down the government if there was another no-confidence vote? Might the government collapse of its own accord? Will May be deposed by a party rebellion? Would any new leader fare any better in solving what is, ultimately, an insoluble problem? Could May decide to just ignore the non-binding resolutions of parliament and press on with a no-deal exit regardless?

I’d say things might be clearer by tomorrow, but it’s likely the opposite will be the case. My money is still on a disorderly exit on the 29th, but I’m a little more hopeful that I might be wrong.

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