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3 December 2018

With the DUP warning of a no confidence vote, Brexit is becoming ever more dysfunctional

It’s hard to envisage how any party could possibly pass a deal.

By Stephen Bush

Set the controls for an election in 2019? The DUP has warned that it could vote against the government in a vote of no confidence, the Times reports. It comes shortly after Keir Starmer said what we already knew: that in the weeks after Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement is defeated, Labour will bring forward a motion of no confidence.

It underlines the Conservative Party’s big problem: that there is no way to secure a Brexit deal with the European Union without an indefinite backstop to prevent a border on the island of Ireland and there is no Brexit the DUP will accept that changes the nation of Northern Ireland’s constitutional position.

We already knew that, of course. But the bigger problem isn’t the Conservative Party’s difficulty passing the withdrawal agreement, but the question of whether or not one can be passed at all.

Let’s say we have an election before the end of the Article 50 process. Still highly unlikely but not impossible. How many seats would either of the big two parties have to gain for their own internal divisions over Brexit to become surmountable? It’s pretty clear that, regardless of May’s handling of the 2017 election, the majority won by David Cameron in 2015 would not have been big enough. On the Labour side, they have to gain 60 seats to win any type of majority at all and even if they were to pull that off, at least some of those seats will be won by candidates who have made promises over Brexit, whether through expediency or ideology, that make it hard for them to secure agreement either.

Far from clearing up, the politics of Brexit are becoming more deadlocked and more dysfunctional, not less. It is getting harder and harder to see where the enduring parliamentary majority not just to win one vote over the withdrawal agreement but to pass the agreement through law and to negotiate a trade deal thereafter.

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