Why Donald Tusk’s warnings will do very little to help Theresa May

MPs are largely divided into those who don’t believe him, and those who don't care. 

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It’s Theresa May’s deal, no deal or no Brexit: that’s the warning that Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, has issued in what ought to be a boost for the Prime Minister’s hopes of securing the votes she needs to pass the withdrawal agreement.

The problem is that for the most part, MPs can be divided into two groups: those who believe Tusk’s words but do not fear them, and those who might fear them but do not believe them.

Of the various opponents of the deal, pro-European MPs either believe Tusk, but think they can secure another referendum and no Brexit, or they think that while, yes, the withdrawal agreement – the legally binding treaty that facilitates the United Kingdom’s orderly exit from the bloc – is set in stone, the political declaration – the non-binding language about the future relationship – can be re-opened to commit the United Kingdom to a closer future relationship than the one on offer from Theresa May.  

Brexiteer MPs either believe Tusk, but do not fear a no deal exit, or think that Tusk is bluffing: faced with the prospect of “no deal”, the European Union will offer a better deal than the one negotiated with Theresa May.

There is another group, however: Conservative MPs who declared their opposition early, who are looking for an excuse to U-turn and back the deal. And for them, this might be part of what allows them to finesse a change in position.

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.