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Wednesday 16 January 2019

The House of Commons will be packed at 7pm tonight for a motion of no confidence against the government tabled by Jeremy Corbyn. With the assured backing of the DUP together with Tory Brexiteers who loath Corbyn even more than the dismal withdrawal deal their leader has assembled, the government will win. How novel.

Just after 7pm yesterday, the prime minister suffered literally the greatest defeat ever, almost doubling the previous record, held by Ramsay MacDonald (see below).

The motion in favour of the government’s withdrawal agreement with the EU was voted down 432 to 202. The gap is so huge they look like they’re the wrong way around.

“It is clear that the House does not support this deal. But tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support. Nothing about how – or even if – it intends to honour the decision the British people took in a referendum Parliament decided to hold,” said Theresa May in her remarks before inviting all parties in the opposition to table a no confidence motion.

As anticipated, even before the magnitude of the defeat was revealed, Mr Corbyn duly obliged. Rumours then surfaced of a carefully conceived plan for a hundred or so Labour MPs to individually pledge their support for a second referendum over the course of the evening and the following day. The idea being that once the no confidence motion fails the Labour leadership would feel obliged to take that ill-advised route.

For the time being however, those pledges are yet to materialise. It seems they have been headed off by a statement from Party HQ that they do not expect to bring down Theresa May and her shambolic administration this time around. The strategy is to keeping tabling motions after every defeat as May busily tries to soften her deal but repeatedly fails to gather a majority.

“This is not about one vote of no confidence in the government,” said a Labour spokesperson last night. “It’s about a sustained campaign.”

For all Corbyn’s faults (and they are almost infinite) he at least understands, treating the electorate like idiots by asking them to answer exactly the same question again will do untold damage to their base in those disenfranchised parts of the country that loath Europe and have been long-forgotten by the liberal elites.

Everything hinges on Labour, they are the new DUP. Designated the government’s spokesperson last night, Matt Hancock confirmed dialogue with the opposition would be stepped up in order to get a deal through Parliament.

To calm inevitable panic that the current deal would somehow be twisted into even more of a catastrophe Downing Street quickly issued a statement promising not to completely betray the referendum (let’s be honest, they already have) by only courting “senior parliamentarians” with similar views on global trade – i.e. ones who do not favour a Customs Union of any kind. These MPs are few and far between.

“We want to deliver an orderly Brexit with a deal,” said a Number 10 spokesperson. “One that protects our union, gives us control of our borders, laws and money, and means we have an independent trade policy. It’s for others to set out their positions, but we want to identify what would be required to secure the backing of the House, consistent with what we believe to be the result of the referendum.”

According to the Daily Mail, Corbyn will not be approached due to his “cynical” approach to Brexit. If he had stuck to his convictions on hegemonic European integration, he would never have allowed the Customs Union narrative being peddled by his front bench to get so out of control, whether Corbyn is in the frame or not is therefore academic. He does not have control of his troops.

The statement delivered by Downing Street is a repetition of the same line trotted out over the last two years, but in this case – as indeed it proved with EU – it is an opening position. The other side is enthusiastically invited to dilute it as they please. We know for a fact only a minority of Labour backbenchers care for an independent trade policy. That will surely be removed from the discussion, replaced by the Customs Union.

We need to “stop negotiating as if we and the EU are on the same side of the table”, writes David Davis in the Telegraph today. It is unlikely May and her entourage will make amends for their previous negotiating blunders, more are to come. Ghastly, when you consider last night’s historic defeat could not be a clearer sign that the government needs to completely change its act.

Boris Johnson, last night called for the backstop to be “surgically removed” and replaced by a conventional trade deal in time for departure on March 29, a commendable suggestion supported by Davis in his column. But there’s no hope of that.

Instead, we are faced with May’s deal decomposing into something even worse, a strategy that may gather more votes, but will alienate many more Tories – only 40 backbench Conservatives voted with the government last night. Even if May’s new deal treats Northern Ireland equally to the rest of the United Kingdom, lest we forget the DUP are committed Leavers, their votes will only be brought back if the prime minister completely switches tack and instructs Brussels to accept a free trade deal or no deal. May should not mistake the DUP’s support for her at tonight’s vote for reassurance they will eventually back her withdrawal policy. They won’t.