Could a May-Corbyn Brexit deal actually achieve a majority in parliament?

It’s expected that the cross-party talks will reach a deal today. But does it matter?

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Is a deal about to be reached between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May? Politicians on both sides today expect to see a real and genuine offer from the government to the opposition in the cross-party talks.

But what kind of majority, if any, could a cross-party deal to take the United Kingdom out of all of the European Union’s institutions bar the customs union hope for?

Let’s start with the 242 MPs who voted for the withdrawal agreement last time: 235 Conservative MPs and seven others.

The seven others – former Lib Dem Stephen Lloyd, who has promised his constituents not to block Brexit, the independent Unionist Sylvia Hermon, the former Labour MPs who now sit as independents Ian Austin and Frank Field, plus Labour’s Caroline Flint, John Mann and Kevin Barron – are guaranteed to vote for any Brexit deal that could plausibly be signed off by both May and Corbyn.

What about the 235 Conservative MPs? Well, that’s where it starts to get trickier. On the Conservative benches, there is a lot of opposition to staying within a customs union with the EU after Brexit, which forgoes what many see as the main benefit of leaving. There is an equal level of opposition to conducting a Brexit deal with Jeremy Corbyn.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to tell a journalist that you are minded to vote against the Prime Minister than it is to actually do it. That said, let’s apply a heavy degree of cynicism – the Tory whips would still, by my count, be lucky to get 150 votes from the Conservative Party for a customs union deal fronted by May.

Look at it this way: it’s a very hard Brexit that is unpopular with Brexiteers in parliament, whose vocal opposition is likely to shape how it goes down with Leave voters in the country. That’s a very big ask.

When the Speaker, his deputies, the seven Sinn Féin MPs who do not take their seats, and the currently vacant constituency of Peterborough are taken into account, you need 320 votes to win a majority of one in the House.

So the question then becomes: can the Labour whips get at least 170 Labour MPs to vote for a hard Brexit with no referendum attached? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, we know that the Labour whip hasn’t lost all its power from the fact that so many diehard opponents of a second referendum trooped into the division lobbies to vote for one. On the other, that Labour MPs who do want a second vote feel they have the support of their activists makes it easier for them to defy the whip.

One thing is clear: the attempt to pass a Brexit through this parliament with a majority of Conservative MPs and a rump of Labour backbenchers has failed and will continue to fail unless the alternative is a no-deal Brexit. If Brexit is to pass this parliament, it will have to be a Brexit orchestrated, facilitated and confirmed largely with Labour votes.

And no one can say with any confidence what the political repercussions of that would be. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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