Three questions

18 October 2019

We're busy people; time is tight all round. So let’s do it in short order. At this point only three things matter: should the Commons accept the deal? will it? and what happens if it doesn’t?

Should the Commons accept the deal?
It’s good that the backstop has gone. And it’s good that the commitment to future alignment has been weakened and relegated to the non-binding Political Declaration. It's a disappointment that nothing has been done to make the money contingent or to modify the jurisdiction of the ECJ. And it’s a bad business to cut adrift 1.8m of our fellow-citizens from the benefits of departure from the EU, though the numbers are so tiny by comparison to the 66.2m of the rest of the country, that it won’t affect third-party trade deals. I’d have preferred no deal but I can just stomach it, on the basis that Boris will win the next election and negotiate dealings with the EU which maximise our regulatory discretion.

Will it?
Boris needs 320 votes. There are 288 whipped Tories, from which we might subtract three or four of the deepest-dyed Spartans, the balance we will take it supporting the Government kicking and screaming. So let’s say 285. Where are the other thirty-five to come from?

Of the 21 Tories who lost the Tory whip on 4 September, I would see all voting for the deal but for Kenneth Clarke, Dominic Grieve and let’s say four others, to take us down to fifteen “Aye” votes. That leaves Boris needing another twenty.

Are there sufficient defectors from a Labour Party whipped against the deal but fractious in every way? I find it hard to take seriously the forty-two Labour rebels who voted against Stephen Kinnock’s “Common Market 2.0” on 26 March, as no-one really knew what he was on about. The maximum number of rebels is probably indicated by the twenty-seven who voted against a referendum; the minimum would be the three who voted for no deal.

The number of Labour defectors in the air at time of writing is a dozen or so. Over the next twenty-four hours, much effort will go into getting this up. It may count for something that the temper of the country is for a resolution, but then again this Parliament has made a fetish of its indifference to the popular mood. Three days ago, I said I saw the chances as a shade over fifty percent and nothing has happened to change that.

What happens if it doesn’t?
Boris will have to ask for an extension. I’m sticking to my view that he’ll be given six months with a headmaster’s warning that this is the last time, Johnson! Parliament will then be shamed into an election. The critical question is can Boris win? The polls have been going his way, but he’s at risk of being seen as nothing but Theresa May Mark 2. He’ll have no choice but to campaign for his deal, obliging him to promise to tack in the Hard Brexit direction on future negotiations to peel off the voters currently throwing in with Farage. Truth to tell, he may pull it off as he’s the only UK politician with anything like star-quality. Now to see whether he makes history tomorrow.