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13 November 2018

As Theresa May’s deal flounders, which MPs are likely to join Jo Johnson in voting against it?

If his younger brother says the deal would make the UK a vassal state, then Boris Johnson can’t u-turn again and vote for it.

By Stephen Bush

Will today be another happy day? Not for Theresa May, who has declared that the Brexit talks have reached their “endgame”. But two pieces in today’s papers highlight just how difficult – perhaps impossible – it will be for the Prime Minister to pass any kind of accord through parliament.

Writing for the Times, Jo Johnson blasts May’s deal and a no-deal exit as a choice between an unacceptable loss of power on the one hand and an unacceptable economic catastrophe on the other. For him, the solution is simple: a second referendum with the option to Remain. It doesn’t add very much to his resignation statement but of course it makes it impossible to conceive of a situation in which he will vote for the deal having marched right to the top of the hill. To his name you can add at least half a dozen Conservative MPs who have backed a referendum on the deal – perilously close to the seven needed to wipe out the government’s majority on their own.

If Jo Johnson is not going to vote for a deal that he has declared will make the United Kingdom a vassal state, then Boris Johnson can’t – as so many optimists in the Whips’ Office, Downing Street and in the government have privately predicted for so long – u-turn again and vote for the deal.

That matters for two reasons – firstly, of course, because the government is already two votes down in a vote where the margin for error is paper-thin. But it also matters because Boris Johnson has credibility with Leave voters and if he is voting against the deal, pro-European Labour MPs in seats that voted for Brexit will feel safer in voting against the deal (as the Labour leadership is certain to instruct them to do). So that’s one group that won’t be coming to May’s rescue.

Also not bailing May out: ideologically committed Labour Leavers. One of their number, Kate Hoey, writes today for LabourList that she will vote against any deal that “panders” to the Irish government over the backstop. Labour’s small band of longtime Brexiteers on the backbenchers are an ideologically diverse bunch so don’t assume that Hoey speaks for all of them – but Hoey was very probably the most likely of the bunch to vote for May’s deal.

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So what next for Theresa May? Recent history suggests that when it looks like she can’t go on, she goes on, somehow. The chances of no Brexit at all are rising, but so, too, are the chances of no-deal. Downing Street hopes that the fear of the former will yet win over enough Brexiteers while a desire to avoid the latter will win over enough Remainers. Others are pinning their hopes on a second vote on the deal once Labour has tried and failed to bring about an early election. What unites almost everyone at Westminster is a conviction that someone else will blink. If they’re wrong, it’s not clear what will be left to save from the embers.