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26 November 2018

The only question now is how badly Theresa May’s Brexit deal will be defeated

The only question now is if the withdrawal agreement is defeated by more than 100 votes.

By Stephen Bush

Crossover! My colleague Patrick’s tracker of the number of Conservative-DUP MPs has exceed the magic 87 mark.

What’s so significant about 87 MPs? Well, it means that as it stands, more than half of the non-payroll vote (the 174 Conservative MPs who are not Cabinet ministers, junior ministers, parliamentary private secretaries, whips or other miscellaneous functionaries on the government dime) has publicly committed to voting against the withdrawal agreement.

Our tracker isn’t the only one out there but it is (deliberately) the most small-c conservative, so we are the last to hit this particular benchmark.

Why did we use such a strict filter?  Strange as it now seems, when Patrick started keeping track of the number of declared opponents of the deal, there were still a surprising number of pundits who were willing to say that Theresa May’s deal might pass Parliament. We wanted to show that, even if you set a very high bar, May was still well adrift of where she needed to be to pass the withdrawal agreement. (At first, the list was solely of MPs who had resigned from the government to vote against the deal – and even that list is big enough to wipe out the government majority.)

We wholly expect the more generous count used by other outlets to be more accurate on this occasion. While in most rebellions, there is some attrition once the whips get to work, at this point, with the government so badly adrift, it feels more likely that the number of rebels will exceed the number used both by the New Statesman and other outlets.

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That has two big implications. The first is that it means that the withdrawal agreement looks to be heading not just for defeat but for a big defeat. Don’t forget that rebels count double – one vote off the number voting with the government, one onto the pile of those voting against.  

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The 87 number also matters because it is getting dangerously close to another important benchmark: 100. That’s the number of Labour MPs who have ever rebelled against Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit, with three-quarters of that number voting to make Brexit softer than the one envisaged by Corbyn or to stop it entirely, and one quarter voting for a harder Brexit than the one proposed by Corbyn.

That means that any hope that Labour rebels alone may be able to save the withdrawal agreement on a second or third go around is becoming an increasingly difficult ask, not least because some of those rebels are now on the frontbench and are highly unlikely to quit. A major shift, either from Conservative backbenchers or the Labour leadership, will be necessary.