Around this time of year, it’s traditional to put a pile of unappetising-looking ingredients in a big pan and give them a thorough mix in the hope that something half-decent will emerge by Christmas. But despite the Prime Minister’s best efforts, there’s no sign of her party finding the key elements of her Brexit deal remotely palatable, and she doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for Christmas with the key Parliamentary vote scheduled for tomorrow.
After an intensive week of behind-the-scenes negotiations, during which Number 10 hoped to whittle the rebellion down to manageable numbers, it seems that any hope of passing the deal has gone; over 100 Conservative MPs are now on record opposing the deal, Government resignations continue and there is no Opposition support in sight.
Yesterday’s round of Sunday politics shows was the last chance to take the temperature of the Conservative party before the vote, and rather than signs of improving health, we saw ministers and backbench MPs openly speculating about what would happen when (not if) the vote is lost, how quickly Theresa May would have to resign, and whether her successor would be better advised to seek a renegotiation or move towards a new referendum.
The only thing that has become clearer over the last week is that there is no majority in the Commons for any specific Brexit deal. The Irish backstop remains a sticking point for many MPs, but is probably the issue on which the EU is least willing to negotiate further. Assuming the Commons vote does takes place then we will need to wait to see what happens in the immediate aftermath of it to get a better idea of whether the direction of travel is towards attempted renegotiation, a further referendum or intensified no-deal preparations – for now the uncertainty will continue.
Just to add to that uncertainty, later today the Court of Justice of the EU will rule on whether the U.K. may unilaterally revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU after all.
The opinion of the Advocate General, given last week, was that unilateral revocation was permissible; although this opinion is not binding on the CJEU, in practice a large majority of rulings do follow such opinions. However, even if unilateral revocation is an option, it is unlikely that an extension of the Article 50 period beyond March 2019 would be available without the unanimous consent of the other 27 members of the EU, and it is very hard to see how the U.K. political process could result in a decision to revoke Article 50 before that deadline.
We will publish a further update later today with commentary on the decision and possible consequences for tomorrow’s vote.