With friends like this, who needs the ERG? Amber Rudd has told the Today programme that parliament “will stop ‘no deal’” as there “isn’t a majority in the House of Commons to allow that to take place.”
That distant sound you can hear? It’s Julian Smith, the chief whip, screaming into the void as any hope of Theresa May’s Brexit deal passing parliament vanishes into the distance. The big fear that pro-European MPs have – or had – is that voting down the deal means no-deal. That’s the hurdle that Labour whips had to overcome and that Conservative whips hoped would bring enough Tory rebels into line to pass the deal.
One would assume that Downing Street will row back the remarks but the damage has already been done. But there’s a bigger problem than just a bad day at the office for May and Smith: it’s that Amber Rudd might well be wrong. As I explain in greater detail here, it is certainly true that there is no majority for no deal in the 2017 parliament. But the problem is there was a majority for no deal in the 2015 parliament, which gave Theresa May the right to trigger Article 50 without adding any riders or stipulations to prevent a no-deal exit. The default state of the Article 50 is that, absent agreement, we leave without a deal.
There isn’t a majority in this parliament to stop Brexit. There isn’t a majority for a second referendum or for an exit into the EEA, absent a big change in the political priorities of both the Tory and Labour leaderships. There isn’t – any more – a majority for no deal, but there doesn’t need to be. All that needs to happen for a no-deal exit to take place is for the EU and the UK to fail to reach terms.
Parliament has to do something proactive to prevent a no-deal exit (and crucially it has to do something acceptable to the other side of the Brexit negotiations) and it is far from clear if there is a parliamentary majority to do anything proactive.