This Tuesday, the Brexit withdrawal agreement that Theresa May negotiated with the EU was due to go before the House of Commons, where it was almost certain to be heavily defeated.
And so, at lunchtime on Monday, the government had come up with a plan to avoid defeat on this unprecedented scale: postponing the vote. In a statement at 3.30pm, May blamed fears about the backstop (Stephen Bush explained that here), and promised to discuss the matter further with the EU-27.
Whose negotiators have repeatedly said the deal cannot be re-opened. So, that’s just great.
Compounding this chaos was the announcement on Wednesday morning by the chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, that he had received the 48 letters needed to trigger a confidence vote in May as leader of the Conservative party. There will be a vote on Wednesday evening. If May loses, there will be a leadership contest in which she cannot stand. If she wins, she will be safe from a formal challenge for another year. Read more about how a confidence vote can lead to a leadership contest here.
The backdrop to this high political Tory drama is the fact that Brexit already looked like such a contradictory mess that what happened next was anybody’s guess. New Statesman alumnus Henry Zeffman, now embedded in the Times politics team, tweeted this dizzyingly complex flowchart, showing several dozen possibilities. The route to some destinations – a no-deal Brexit; a last minute reprieve for May’s deal – is relatively straightforward. Others – a second referendum, a general election, a government of national unity of the sort unknown in the post-war era – are rather more convoluted. A surprisingly high number of paths run via a Tory leadership election; but even were that to happen it tells us nothing about the sort of Brexit Britain faces when its EU membership expires on 29 March 2019. Here is George Eaton on why removing Theresa May will not solve any of the hard Brexiteers’ problems.
It’s become a cliché to describe events as an unprecedented crisis, or to warn that Theresa May is facing her toughest week yet. But nonetheless, those things are true, and it is extremely difficult to see how these things will play out, although it may be a tiny bit clearer on Wednesday night.
We’ll be updating this post, with links to commentary by our politics team on the likelihood or practicality of the various options, for as long as the crisis lasts. We may be here a while.
The May deal?
Revealed: How the government will fight the meaningful vote on the Brexit deal (Patrick)
Tory Brexiteers are deluded to believe there is a better option than May’s deal (George)
In October, Nick Clegg told George why he thought May would succeed in getting deal through
Vote Leave head Matthew Elliott: Brexiteers won the battle but we could lose the war
Theresa May is running out of ways to avoid defeat (Stephen)
Dominic Grieve’s Brexit amendment gives control back to MPs – but what will they do with it? (Patrick)
No deal would be an act of economic self-harm but Brexiteers are trying to normalise it (George)
A no-deal Brexit would mean a 2008-style recession, says Bank of England (Patrick)
A fresh election?
The DUP pledge to support May in a confidence vote – but they could still trigger an election (Patrick)
Also by Patrick: The DUP do tolerate differences with Great Britain. But Brexit is different
The Conservatives will want to make an early election about Brexit. Will Labour let them? (Stephen)
Why even an election wouldn’t guarantee a Brexit deal passing parliament (Stephen)
A new referendum?
Why Remainers are confident there is enough time (George)
From July, a long-read on the vote that could stop Brexit (Martin Fletcher)
A list of the MPs who back a new referendum (Patrick)
Sam Gyimah’s resignation means that a People’s Vote could well happen (Stephen)
A change of Tory leadership?
How to remove a Conservative leader (George)
A Labour deal?
No, John McDonnell isn’t changing Labour policy on Brexit (Stephen)
Article 50 can be revoked, says the EU’s top lawyer. So what does that mean for Brexit? (Patrick)
The European Court of Justice’s ruling that Britain could revoke Article 50 doesn’t really change anything (Stephen)