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Thursday 10 January 2019

“Out of order” reads the front page Today’s Sun, referring to Commons Speaker John Bercow who yesterday scandalously allowed an amendment (see yesterday’s Brexit Brunch) restricting the prime minister’s time to regroup and come up with a new deal to just three days. Naturally, the amendment passed in the Europhile House and the government suffered its second defeat in as many days.

“This supposedly unbiased speaker deludes himself, like the Remain diehards whose dirty work he enables, that he is the dashing hero of a noble anti-Brexit insurgency (instead of the sweaty, self-important gnome of reality),” laments the Sun in its editorial.

Quite, the vertically challenged Mr Bercow has built his political brand on being even – yet at the same time heavy – handed with MPs on both sides of the aisle. Clearly, his lust for Britain to remain in the EU,  preserved on tape, supersedes his deference for the rules. The speaker defied the advice of his officials, who told him Dominic Grieve’s amendment to the meaningful vote motion did not meet parliamentary standards and was therefore not eligible for debate and a subsequent vote. Instead, it was put to the House and duly passed, 308 to 297.

While Bercow may be the one brandishing the smoking gun, all other parties to this massacre of a withdrawal still have their weapons raised with fingers on triggers.

We’ve got a “Mexican stand-off. Theresa May’s metaphorical gun is aimed at the MPs who back a second referendum. Whose guns are pointed at the no‑dealers. Whose guns are trained on supporters of Norway-plus. Whose guns are aimed at Jeremy Corbyn. Whose gun is pointed at Theresa May,” writes Nick “I lost the Tories their majority” Timothy in today’s Telegraph. His analogy is perhaps a little too neat if we may say so, but it nicely encapsulates the mess Parliament is in.

The ball is in the prime minister’s court, but for the time being, it is the players around her, both inside and outside the Conservatives making the moves that might get her over the line at the second time of asking. Let us hope not.

The Times reports Oliver Letwin, the chief Tory spokesperson for a Norway-style deal, plus Customs Union, has opened talks with the Shadow Brexit Secretary over a deal Labour could get behind. “Could” rather than “would” as the Labour leadership’s priority remains a general election. Grieve’s timing may prove to be fortuitously bad. Jeremy Corbyn is not action man. Even in the very possible event of a staggering defeat for the government next Thursday it seems unlikely he will summon the courage to call a no-confidence vote to trigger a general election before the following Monday.

Nevertheless, the prime minister has reason to act quickly in getting Labour onside. Even without the Corbyn challenge, she wants to get a deal, any deal approved by Parliament. 

“No 10 is trying to give the impression that no deal remains possible but, after many years of knowing the Prime Minister, I do not believe that she would willingly take Britain out of the EU without a deal,” claims Timothy, who had was Mrs May’s close advisor from 2010 to 2017.

He goes onto estimate up to five Cabinet ministers will resign if Britain end ups headed for no deal. One of those ministers is undoubtedly business secretary Greg Clarke who has written a suspiciously impassioned op-ed for Politico urging Parliament to back May’s deal. You get the sense he would prefer a Letwin-Labour vision. When asked this morning on the Today programme whether he would back no deal over a bad deal, he refused to answer, saying instead he backed the current one.

With this in mind, reports in the FT of a band of voter-conscious Labour MPs, including Eurosceptic John Mann, planning an amendment on the next meaningful vote are cause for concern. They are seeking assurances Britain will not deviate from the workers’ rights currently guaranteed by the EU along with ruinous environmental policies. This is a platform many Labour voters could get behind without losing face with diehard Europhile activists.

Two defeats in Parliament and in an instant the picture has shifted. We shouldn’t be surprised. There are cracks aplenty in May’s wobbly administration. It will only take a handful of treasonous, yet enterprising MPs to pour in some cold water and wait for the January ice to break this historically feeble government.