The Great Brexit Bluff-Off

Theresa May is set for a stormy Cabinet meeting this morning after one third of her Cabinet met last night to discuss their opposition to her Brexit plans. Eight ministers gathered in Andrea Leadsom’s office for pizza and plotting – Raab, Hunt, Gove, Mordaunt, Grayling, Truss, Cox and Leadsom – a higher turnout than expected with the includion of a number of former May loyalists.

While May looks to be safe from a pizza inspired putsch for now, the inescapable issue is that her backstop plan as it stands is fundamentally unacceptable to significant parts of her Cabinet and her party, as well as her allies in the DUP. Number 10 is banking on the hope that these factions are bluffing and will eventually back down and support her deal. Will they?

  • Cabinet: Most likely to fall into line. May’s evergreen strategy of kicking the can down the road avoids any imminent flashpoints for ministers to make principled resignations over. By putting off crunch decisions for as long as possible, Cabinet ministers may feel that it is too close to the deadline to rock the boat in a big way. But would Tory members forgive them for backing a deal they hate?
  • Tory Backbenchers: A question of how many. While the full ERG membership of around 80 MPs is unlikely to vote down the deal en masse, 40 rebel MPs is not unimaginable. ERG shop steward Steve Baker again made clear on Newsnight that he will vote down the deal unless May changes course. Even if she whittles down the rebels to a hard core of 10-20, this still presents major arithmetical challenges. Particularly if she also loses the support of…
  • The DUP: Anyone who has followed Northern Irish politics for any length of time knows that the DUP do not simply back down. May wouldn’t rule out additional checks being introduced between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain during her Commons grilling yesterday – a “blood red” line for the DUP. Nigel Dodds openly told Newsnight that the DUP will do what it can to disrupt the Government’s whole domestic agenda, short of triggering a General Election. They will never, never, never back down…
  • Labour: May’s hopes of a majority appear to be pinned on a sizeable Labour rebellion. A frontbench pivot seems out of the question. Blairites are unlikely to come to the rescue as they see no deal chaos as their best chance of securing a second referendum. Leave-y Labour MPs like Caroline Flint and Graham Stringer have been making the most supportive noises so far. But are there enough of them?

May’s only other option is to take heed of the concerns of her own MPs and the DUP and go back to the EU with a proposal that Parliament is behind, rather than one her ‘sherpas’ have told her will fly in Europe. Of all the many sides in this multi-dimensional negotiation, the EU seems to be the only one she is unwilling to bluff…




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Quote of the Day

Dominic Raab wrote in his letter of resignation…

“This is, at its heart, a matter of public trust,” he told the PM, concluding: “I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto at the last election… I believe that the regulatory regime proposed for Northern Ireland presents a very real threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom. I cannot support an indefinite backstop arrangement, where the EU holds a veto over our ability to exit…”

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