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12 February 2019

There’s a big problem with Theresa May’s plan to pass her Brexit deal

There aren’t actually enough Labour MPs in the group she is targeting to pass anything.

By Stephen Bush

Theresa May’s Brexit strategy is clear: to use a combination of policy concessions on workers’ rights and environmental standards with the ticking of the Brexit clock to muster enough votes from Labour MPs to pass the withdrawal agreement.

May doesn’t want to embrace membership of a customs union with the European Union because that would split her party. What she is aiming for instead is to pass a Brexit deal primarily with Conservative and DUP votes, with Labour votes making up the difference.

The problem is that the Prime Minister is fishing in a very, very small pool. Just 20 Labour MPs have voted against the Labour whip to make Brexit harder than official party policy, and a further nine have abstained on vital votes. Taken together that gets you to 29 votes, including a number of sitting shadow ministers.

Outside that group there are, by my count, 56 Labour MPs in leave constituencies who have not yet rebelled against the party leadership. So the group that May is looking to win over, at most, numbers 88 Labour MPs.

The reality of course is that May is not going to get every MP in that group to vote for her deal, as it would involve resignations from the opposition frontbench; and even if she did, she would still be 56 votes short of being able to pass the withdrawal agreement as it stands. Without a change in approach from the Prime Minister or an outbreak of mass panic among MPs, no deal remains the most likely outcome.

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