Crunching the numbers: Can the Brexit deal get through Parliament?

By Chris Hughes and Simon Fitzpatrick

As we wrote earlier today, Theresa May faces a major challenge in seeking to get the Withdrawal Agreement and Declaration on the Future Relationship which she has negotiated with the European Union through Parliament.  Commentators have formed a consensus that the Prime Minister does not have anything like the votes to get her deal through Parliament. However, if political events of recent years have taught us anything, it is that the consensus view is worth interrogating. Here we set out some of the possible scenarios:

The worst-case scenario for the Government: A big rebellion and a united opposition

There are at least 96 Conservative MPs who have publicly indicated that they will vote against the deal, according to Buzzfeed’s Alex Wickham. If we assume also that the 10 DUP MPs vote against it, as they are indicating they will, that would result in a 106-vote rebellion. If we assume also that the opposition parties vote unanimously against, it would deliver a massive defeat of 197 votes.

A smaller rebellion

Let’s consider a less dramatic scenario. Instead of 96 Tories voting against, we imagine that only the most vociferously opposed – the 27 that have publicly declared no confidence in the Prime Minister –vote against the deal. Let’s also assume there are at least five Labour MPs who back the deal. That would see a Government defeat of 47 votes. In that instance just 24 MPs are required to switch sides to see the Government home. If the DUP could somehow be persuaded to come back into the tent, then it could be ‘game on for the Government’ with the option to go around and try a second time.

A path to victory for the Government, with some Opposition support

The balance of probability is tilted against the deal getting through Parliament. But this Government has survived very difficult votes before. The vote is not scheduled to take place for two weeks, and a concerted operation to sell the deal is now underway.

Ministers, Government Whips and advisors are using three arguments to try to win MPs round: first, the public just wants us to get on and deliver Brexit; second, this is the only deal that is on offer and the EU is clear that there is no scope to re-open negotiations; and third (depending on the recipient of the message), if you vote this down, you run the risk of No Deal (for remainers) or No Brexit (for leavers). The PM is also trying to sell the deal directly to the public through speeches, broadcast interviews, radio phone-ins and possibly even a head-to-head debate with Jeremy Corbyn.

Even then it will be tough to reduce the number of Tory MPs against the deal below 30, even with the Whips working all their magic. The effort to grow the number of Labour MPs (or, dare we say it, even SNP ones) prepared to back the deal will be of paramount importance. It does not look promising so far, with the likes of Lisa Nandy and Gareth Snell – considered potential supporters – stating that they will vote against, along with Labour Brexiteers like Kate Hoey and Dennis Skinner. Last night, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell and Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington briefed Labour MPs to try to persuade them why they should back the deal.

Reports suggest they did not have much success, with one Labour MP telling the pair that if Downing St wanted to persuade them, they should have started talking to them six months ago. That may be so, but the Government doesn’t have six months now – it has two weeks. If they could somehow find a way to up the number of Labour MPs who might back the deal to say 20, win round the DUP and keep the Conservative rebellion to a minimum, there might just be a path to a narrow victory. However, these are all very big ‘ifs’.

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Chris Hughes

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