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5 October 2018

A Brexit deal is “very close” – but it’s irrelevant if May can’t win over her party

It would only take seven Tory Brexiteer ultras voting against the deal for the government to be in dangerous territory.

By Stephen Bush

Crisis over? Markets are up this morning following reports from Reuters that EU officials told diplomats that a deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom is “very close”.

The dates that matter: 17-18 October and 17-18 November, the two summits at which the UK and the EU26 will hope to hammer out a deal.

But the reality is that the difficulty for any deal has never been whether Theresa May would reach an accord but whether parliament would approve it. The PM long ago signalled that as far as the trade-off between freedom and market access goes, she is firmly on the side of market access and that when push comes to shove, she chooses caving over the cliff edge.

Something that hasn’t been appreciated about the government’s ludicrous proposal on skilled and unskilled migration: the only way those plans can possibly be economically workable is if your expectation that the UK will make a generous offer on something that looks a hell of a lot like free movement in trade talks.

The question is whether or not parliament feels the same way. The assumption among most Conservative Remainers and Chequers loyalists is that Brexit ultras will stomp their feet but they won’t, come the crunch, vote against the Withdrawal Agreement when it comes before the House.

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That’s certainly true of most die-hard Brexiteers. But it only needs to be false of about seven of them for the government to be in dangerous territory. And don’t forget that the British parliament will be back here again at the end of 2020 when the transition period is due to end. The UK might not be out of the woods just yet.