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12 November 2018

The pressure is on Theresa May to reach a deal with the EU27. But the real battle is in parliament

The faction within the Labour leadership that might have voted for May’s deal looks to have been comprehensively defeated.

By Stephen Bush

Is it time to buy gold/stockpile tinned food/work out which of the plants in your flat are safe to eat?

Theresa May is busily working on the last stages of the withdrawal agreement with her fellow heads of government and the European Commission, but the real crisis on the floor of the House of Commons.

The PM lost another minister on Friday afternoon, after Jo Johnson quit the government and called for another referendum. It’s big news, but also not really news at all: we knew that May’s deal had big problems at both ends of the Conservative Party’s referendum debate, we just didn’t know that Jo Johnson was one of them.

We know that Labour’s six tests are designed to give that party a justification to vote against the deal whatever its contents, and that there aren’t going to be enough Labour rebels unless there is major softening in the Brexit on offer from Theresa May. We know that can’t happen without May’s cabinet disintegrating.

So what’s left? It’s a repeated refrain by pro-European MPs of all parties that there is no parliamentary majority for a no-deal Brexit. That may well be true of the 2017 parliament. The problem is that it wasn’t true of the 2015 parliament, which voted to trigger Article 50 – a process that presupposes no-deal.

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At the moment, the pressure on Labour is about its unwillingness to deliver something it doesn’t have the power to deliver: another referendum vote or no Brexit at all. But there’s next to no pressure at all on the party to do something that is within its power: to help prevent a no-deal Brexit by voting through or abstaining on May’s deal. The faction within the Labour leadership that entertained the idea that the party might, in the end, vote for May’s deal looks to have been comprehensively defeated to my eyes, and I don’t think there are enough Labour rebels to bail out the deal either. Theresa May’s only hope of landing a deal is that at least one of those assumptions turns out to be wrong.