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Wednesday 13 March 2019

Last night, Theresa May suffered her second heavy defeat over her abysmal Withdrawal Agreement. The margin was squeezed, but it was still historic, 149, the fourth biggest in history. It came as no surprise following Geoffrey Cox’s verdict on the last-minute additions agreed with Brussels on Monday night: “the legal risk remains unchanged”. See yesterday’s Brexit Brunch.

In spite of Cox’s decision and even more withering conclusions made by the European Research Group’s legal panel and the DUP, the prime minister managed to convince some previously respected Brexiteers to vote with her. David Davis and Nadine Dorries were the notable defectors, click here to see who stayed faithful. Only one Labour MP was convinced to join Dorries and Davies, Caroline Flint. Some return on May’s £1.6bn windfall to impoverished towns in the North.

Immediately after the defeat, a hoarse May set the terms for the impending no-to-No-Deal Commons motion, set for 7.00 pm today. Debating will begin mid-afternoon, after the chancellor’s spring statement. It’s going to be a busy day.

The wording of the motion is already notorious:

“That this House declines to approve leaving the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework on the Future Relationship on 29 March 2019; and notes that leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU law unless this House and the EU ratify an agreement.”

In classic May style, the prime minister is trying to appeal to both sides of the bitterly opposed Remainers and Leavers in Parliament.

Naturally, MPs have tabled amendments to boil the motion down to No Deal. Caroline Spelman – a repeat offender in trying to ruin Britain’s negotiating hand – has put down a simplifying amendment with Jack Dromey. Tory Remainers Nick Boles and Dominic Grieve back it, as are the SNP. Jeremy Corbyn is expected to throw Labour behind it. Typical.

Not that it makes much difference. In spite of Remainer outcries from the likes of Yvette Cooper (see below) The substance of the motion is faithful to May’s disastrous pledge to hand over control of withdrawal from the EU to Parliament, which is agitating to take No Deal off the table by extending Article 50 and kill any chance of a decent trade relationship with Europe along with it. It is the Brexiteers who are the most aggrieved.

An embarrassing Remainer-Leaver amendment from the Tory side is also in the offing. Steve Baker and Iain Duncan-Smith have teamed up with Damian Green and Nicky Morgan to try and enforce the “Malthouse compromise”: Britain will pay the £39bn for a transition deal, and that’s it. No backstop, but no trade deal either. How on earth can No Deal be a worse option than flushing billions down the drain?

“Listening to debate in @HouseofCommons there seems to be a dangerous illusion that the UK can benefit from a transition in the absence of the WA. Let me be clear: the only legal basis for a transition is the WA. No withdrawal agreement means no transition,” tweeted Michel Barnier last night.

The incompetence is even more startling when you consider the EU is never going to take a bite. They’ve got the British government on the run, having repeatedly dismissed the Malthouse Compromise. Fully anticipating today’s motion to pass – which, disgracefully, the PM herself is poised to vote for – the EU is once again putting the ball in Britain’s court, waiting for a feeble shot to smash away, game set match.

There’s little to suggest in this morning’s papers that May will resign. The cabinet convened this morning. According to the Sun, the many pro-Remain ministers around the table urged her to reconcile herself to an extension – not difficult as she’ll probably vote for it herself – and forge a new consensus with Labour. remaining in the Single Market would then be a cert. A second referendum would be likely too.

Sadly, that looks like a strong possibility, the EU will wait to hear Britain’s proposals for an extension and twist the knife. A long delay seems likely, even though it is the British public’s most hated outcome.