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Wednesday 5 December 2018

Yesterday was a truly decisive day in Parliament as Theresa May suffered the worst defeat by a PM in the commons for 40 years. The government was found in contempt of parliament as MPs seized control of Brexit. The prime minister has battled on trying to sell her withdrawal deal, but it seems she has come to the end of the road. By 311 votes to 293, the Commons supported demanding a full disclosure of the legal advice given to the Cabinet before the withdrawal deal was agreed.

The government suffered three defeats, the first time this milestone has happened since the 1970’s. Boris Johnson labelled the deal “a democratic disaster”. It was a historic day, and a torrid one for the May who finds herself on the brink of a near certain defeat in the Commons.

The Grieve amendment, meaning MPs will have a say in what happens next if (when) May’s deal is rejected on 11 December. The Grieve amendment has opened the door for MPs to table their own Brexit proposals, “off-the-shelf” options such as a “Norway arrangement” or a “Norway for now” deal are likely to be tabled, although these cross the PM’s red lines on issues such as freedom of movement, which were at the very heart of the Brexit debate.

The amendment will give a new found burst of hope to Remoaners looking to sabotage Brexit.  The so called “People’s Vote” advocates will use yesterday’s defeat of the government as leverage to try and push for a second vote, and ultimately achieve their goal of keeping the UK tied to the European Union.

Meanwhile, Remainers have further sharpened their knives as they received news from the EU’s top court, which decided that the withdrawal “may be revoked at any time” during the negotiation period, which ends 29 March 2019, with the consent of other member states not required.

The ECJ’s justices are yet to make a ruling, the decision was made by advocate general Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona. His opinion will greatly influence the judges’ eventual ruling Sanchez-Bordona’s advice is not binding, however it is most unusual for the full court to overturn his recommendation.

This gives MPs wrapped up in the fear tactics over a no-deal a chance to stop it from happening, and gives hard-line Remainer MPs further hope they can stop the process altogether.

May will likely use this news from the ECJ as leverage to push her ‘my way or the high-way’ approach, threatening that if her withdrawal deal fails to pass “no Brexit” is very much a possible option, to scare Eurosceptic MPs into voting for her Brexit surrender on the 11 December meaningful vote. Michael Gove also recently pushed May’s line, saying there was a real risk of a second referendum if MPs don’t back May’s deal.

Michel Barnier has also chipped in with his desire for UK representatives to “do the right thing” and vote for May’s deal. This is hardly surprising, as it is hugely geared towards the EU’s demands.

All of this leaves the prospect of no-deal increasingly unlikely, and the possibility of a Brexit betrayal looking like a huge risk. Hope for Brexiteers comes in the form of the government’s right to simply ignore proposals from MPs. But the following yesterday’s defeat, the government is on a terminally fragile footing. Worryingly, it may come to a point where May’s deal is the ‘hardest’ Brexit option left. It is the duty in the circumstances of true Brexiteers to now push for a no-deal outcome, but their options are thinning.

Just a week ago, a pathway towards a sovereign Brexit appeared to be opening up, but a lot can change in a day in politics, and so it has proved.