Q&A: What are the British PM’s chances of winning battle in Westminster?
Q. So, what is the latest row about?
A. Opposition MPs, supported by the DUP, who are supposed to be backing Theresa May‘s government, insist the attorney general’s legal assessment of the EU-UK draft deal must be published in full.
The government says it can only publish a summary, with the AG taking parliamentary questions. With great fulmination, the opposition are now moving contempt of parliament proceedings, involving the Speaker, a special committee, and probably another parliamentary vote.
It’s another obstacle, with more potential delays, ahead of the main Brexit vote due next Tuesday.
Q. Does this row involve the Irish Border and “backstop”?
A. Inevitably, yes, these matters are the head, neck and tail of it all. Many MPs are only waking up to the reality of what a backstop really is.
The guarantee of no hard Border in Ireland, keeping the UK inside the customs union and close to the single market, will apply until a new EU-UK trade deal is done, or an arbitration panel rules the UK can leave.
The legal advice says the UK cannot unilaterally strike out on its own. Brexiteers argue this keeps the UK “trapped” in the EU – pro-EU people argue it just erects too many EU-UK trade barriers.
Q. What does Mrs May say about the backstop?
A. That it’s a necessary evil. That it is most unlikely to ever be used. That the EU will want to cut a long-term trade deal with the UK to supersede it, because that is in everyone’s interest.
Q. So what are Mrs May’s chances of winning a vote?
A. Her parliamentary arithmetic is still very unpromising. It is hard to see how she can win. Not all the 100 Tory MPs who have spoken against the Brexit deal will vote against it. But if even a small number do, it is hard to see her picking up opposition rebels in numbers to offset her own party losses.
There is not a hope in hell of her defusing the DUP’s strident statements about voting against the deal. But she has kept up a brave face and she keeps fighting.
Q. And can Mrs May survive?
A. Her defiance increases in proportion to things worsening around her. Labour is determined to move a motion of no confidence in her if she fails to get her Brexit deal through.
Given that it is the biggest constitutional change in the UK for 40 years, the Labour move seems reasonable. But they are unlikely to win such a move. Yesterday, Mrs May predicted she will be in her job in two weeks’ time.
Q. So, what is Mrs May doing in the meantime?
A. She is continuing her direct appeal to the people of the nation. She argues that the draft deal signed in Brussels last Sunday week is the only one on offer and the best she could get.
Part of her strategy is that business leaders, especially, will influence local MPs to back her deal on the basis of economic continuity.
Back in Westminster the battle for MPs’ support will continue. We’re back to a mix of charming, bribing and bullying.