Why even an election wouldn’t guarantee a Brexit deal passing parliament

How could any party win enough seats to pass its deal?

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Putting the cart before the horse? That’s the complaint that some ministers are making about Downing Street’s war-gaming of how it will manage difficult amendments to the Withdrawal Bill (or “Wab” as they are calling it in Whitehall) the legislation that will give legal force to the the withdrawal agreement. Those complaints – and the contents of the wargames – have made their way to Alex Wickham of BuzzFeed.

While planning for life after the meaningful vote does feel a little like planning for life after Theresa May becomes the first woman on Mars, it highlights a real problem: which is how on earth this parliament – or one that looks anything like it – is going to do Brexit.

My underlying assumption is that despite what pro-European Labour MPs are saying privately and publicly, when parliament has voted down another referendum, when the government survives the motion of no confidence against it, the only option that will be left is a new commitment in the political declaration to the EEA and a customs union, which will pass thanks to the votes of the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and Labour’s Remainers. 

But are those MPs also going to be willing to do the same to get the Withdrawal Bill through a tough vote at committee stage? Given the likelihood that pro-European Labour MPs will be breaking the whip even to pass the withdrawal agreement, that’s an awfully big ask. Given that the DUP may well have pulled the plug on the confidence-and-supply arrangement, will the government even be standing? If we have an election in 2019, which feels more likely all the time, is either party going to win big enough to overcome its own rebels? Given the Conservatives have a huge task on their hands just to stay where they are now, and Labour have to gain sixty seats for a majority of one, it doesn’t look likely.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Free trial CSS