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Monday 7 January 2019

Welcome back. We hope you’ve had a restful and enjoyable Christmas break. Today is the first day of this year’s political calendar. In 81 days Britain will leave the European Union. 2019 is gonna be a big one.

And with MPs back at Westminster, as ever we’re talking numbers. Today’s are 209 and 304,000.

A cross-bench grouping of 209 MPs albeit one heavily weighted towards the left, there are only 22 Tories – have put their names to a letter pleading the government to rule out a No Deal, currently the default outcome. Remainers are scrambling to find a solution as they find themselves at the bottom of a three-tiered pyramid. Lying at the top is No Deal. In second place is Theresa May’s offering. In spite of her weakness, the prime minister remains inexplicably powerful.

Her reserves are well stocked for the simple reason her irredeemable arrangement with Brussels is the only alternative to No Deal. When Parliament’s many Remainers get truly desperate (they’ve been small “d” desperate for a while now of course) they will have no other option but to back it. But given that it’s almost as unpalatable to Remainers as Leavers – note how over the Christmas Period Europhile Ken Clarke softened his support for it, stating the PM should have made a bipartisan deal with Brussels all along – The Remainers need to actually do something if they are to succeed in denying the popular will. Hence the letter, arranged by Tory MP Caroline Spelman and Labour’s Jack Dromey.

All well and good, but a letter has no constitutional value. Another Tory/Labour pairing in the form of Robert Halfon and Lucy Powell have gone a (very) small step further in publishing yet another rejigged plan under the colours of Norway. Unsurprisingly, it’s backed by EEA standard-bearer Nick Boles MP.

Needless to say, the proposal is idiotic, not only because it totally contradicts the referendum result (something these MPs never seem to appreciate) but it is unworkable. Halfon and Powell call for Britain to stay in both the Single Market and the Customs Union. Norway is not in the CU. It isn’t in the Common Agricultural Policy or the EU’s fisheries policy either, which the report does recommend Britain leaving.

It’s not clear how that squares with a customs-free border in Ireland, the essential problem the two MPs are trying to resolve without (heaven forbid) detaching entirely from the EU and coming to a practical solution by applying random checks away from the border. Agricultural products account for most of the trade in and out of the two zones. If Britain is to take the unwise step of staying in the SM/CU it will have to remain compliant with both agri policies.

Halfon and Powell also reckon they can succeed where David Cameron failed in getting a cap on migration. This report is fake news.

With the letter and the report both duds, May’s deal inevitably looms back into view as the only major threat to a No Deal. As mentioned above, the prime minister has the advantage of her deal being the only option for MPs who don’t respect the will of the electorate. Both she and Brussels are banking on it getting through eventually, which is why the former has not re-opened negotiations. Theresa May knows this, which is why she told Andrew Marr yesterday only “assurances” have been sought from her de facto opposite number Michel Barnier that the backstop will not be interminable, not real changes.

Good luck with that, the backstop is itself an assurance to Ireland that a hard border will never be reinstated. How that gets squared with an assurance that the first assurance will not always apply is we’re sorry to say beyond the scope of our imagination here at Leave.EU. We’re pretty confident though that we’re not alone in this respect.

And good luck running the same “meaningful vote” again and again until it finally passes. The government is supposed to be barred from bullying the Commons by putting forward the same motion again and again. May’s decision to postpone the vote last month should also have been put to the chamber for approval and it wasn’t. Don’t be surprised if Downing Street continues to ride roughshod.

We shouldn’t be surprised because the government is also desperate. Word over the Christmas period was that May’s entourage were energetically trying to bring the DUP onside. There’s no evidence of a breakthrough whatsoever. Meanwhile, a YouGov poll has discovered that 64% of party members prefer no deal over May’s deal. We shouldn’t be surprised if May’s hopes of a majority have slipped even further as her MPs return from the Shires rattled by how despised her era-defining Brexit plan is.

This is exactly the scenario depicted in today’s Telegraph. “We are in complete stasis and no-one at the moment thinks she will win the vote,” sighed one Cabinet source who expects Brussels to offer something next week to soften the inevitable defeat. The vote is scheduled for either the 14th or 15th.

All the while No Deal’s credentials grow from strength to strength, as they should. 304,000 Brexiteers have now signed the Parliament petition to leave the EU on the most minimal terms and resort to WTO rules and rulings for our trade with the bloc. In his weekly column, Boris Johnson puts his weight behind it (see tweet below, Westmonster have a tidy write-up).

And finally on No Deal, Eurosceptic peer Peter Lilley and Labour Councillor Brendan Chilton will today publish their own cross-party report outlining the extensive benefits of the WTO option. As always, keep your eyes on the Leave.EU Twitter feed for updates.