The Brexit numbers that matter aren’t the 48 names needed to trigger a no confidence vote

It’s the 325 MPs and the 27 member states you need to get a Brexit deal, and the most important number of all isn’t a number but a date: 29 March 2019.

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Another day, another tricky assignment for Theresa May: PMQs at noon and then a make-or-break meeting of Conservative backbenchers at the 1922 committee. It comes after yesterday's testing Cabinet meeting, in which a series of ministers warned against an indefinite backstop (the only type of backstop that will pass muster with the European Union).

We're in danger of losing sight of the numbers that matter in favour of the ones that don’t. The important numbers as far as Britain and Brexit goes aren’t the 48 names you’d need to trigger a vote of no confidence in Theresa May's leadership, the 158 MPs you’d need for her to lose it or the six or seven Cabinet ministers who are against the backstop. It’s the 325 MPs you need to pass a Brexit deal, the 27 member states you need to sign it off, and the most important number of all isn't a number but a date: 29 March 2019, the point at which, deal or no deal, the United Kingdom will leave the EU. 

As it stands, May has no plausible path to a parliamentary majority for a deal and the position that her internal critics want has no chance of flying with the EU either. As David Lidington warned other Cabinet ministers yesterday, that has much bigger implications for everyone – the Conservative Party, you, me – than whether or not May is able to extend her lifespan at the top of the Tory party. 

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. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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