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Monday 14 January 2019

Number 10’s PR strategy is all over the place. On the one side, the government is presenting its Brexit policy as exactly what we voted for. At a speech today in Eurosceptic stronghold Stoke-on-Trent Theresa May will cite the 1997 referendum on Welsh devolution to illustrate the winner taking it all holds a strong precedent in British politics.

“When the people of Wales voted by a margin of 0.3%, on a turnout of just over 50%, to endorse the creation of the Welsh assembly, that result was accepted by both sides, and the popular legitimacy of that institution has never seriously been questioned,” May will say.

The Welsh got their assembly of course with little in the way of compromise. But that outcome bears only the faintest similarity with May’s withdrawal deal. Her example in fact only serves to show how utterly she has failed to meet democratically set expectations, which brings us onto the other side of Downing Street’s communications.

Appearing on the BBC’s Westminster Hour last night, defence minister Tobias Ellwood repeatedly claimed the public didn’t know what it was voting for, on those grounds we should accept whatever compromise the government dishes out.

So which is it to be, a policy delivering on the referendum and follow-up manifesto pledges, or a trade-off that leans heavily towards the losing side? Of course, while Ellwood could not be more incorrect about what we voted for, his appraisal of May’s deal is far nearer to the truth, which is why it is destined to fail at tomorrow’s vote in the Commons.

However, the extent of Mrs May’s humiliation has been reeled in, if only by a few feet. Sir Edward Leigh, a lifelong Eurosceptic yesterday switched to the government, beseeching his colleagues to emulate his quisling move.

“Therefore, my message to my fellow Brexit-supporting MPs is you are playing with fire if you vote down this deal in the hope of something better, and the only way to deliver Brexit is to vote for the deal this week,” said Sir Edward.

Not long ago, the Maastricht rebel called upon the government to take up the Canada option. What on earth could have happened? His recent accession to the Privy Council after a lifetime in Westminster with little to show for it might have something to do with it.

Leigh was joined by Caroline Johnson and Andrew Murrison.

“As a Brexiteer, I am unhappy with some aspects of the deal and had intended to vote against it,” said Johnson.

“However I have come to realise that the prime minister is trying to deliver Brexit via a remain Parliament some of whom seem ready to go to any length to frustrate the referendum result and stop Brexit.”

A Johnson of a different kind used his Telegraph column to make the opposite case. And appearing on LBC this morning rubbished the prospect of the niggling amendments alluded to by Caroline Johnson causing preventing a no deal.

“This is precisely the same wretched text that was in the process of receiving such a spectacular raspberry before Christmas…we must have the courage to kill off this lamentable deal, once and for all,” writes Boris.

The former Foreign Secretary has also put his name to a letter urging Conservative MPs to reject May’s proposal and forge ahead with the default WTO option.

“This agreement is a blind alley. It cannot be the basis for a sustainable and successful relationship between the UK and the EU after Brexit. It is better to acknowledge that now rather than create further and bigger difficulties in the future,” argue Boris, David Davis, Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Esther McVey, among many other high-ranking Conservatives.

Over in Brussels, the EU is frantically preparing a response to tomorrow’s rejection of its not-so-triumphant deal with the prime minister’s useless negotiators. The Guardian reports the EU is planning an emergency European Council session for the end of March, on the eve of independence, in response to an inevitable request from London for an extension to Article 50 until July.

This does not bode well. The spare time will be used for the government to make damaging compromises (that word again) with the opposition. May has already sounded out support from Labour MPs for assurances over EU employment and environmental regulations. One of those involved is a Mr Gareth Snell. His constituency, Stoke.