STRAP yourselves in. This country is about to go on a rollercoaster ride as different Brexit options rise and fall.
Over the next three weeks, all sorts of choices will race into view. But this country won’t know where things are going to end up until April 12.
Theresa May must go if her deal is to pass as the country suffers roller-coaster ride of options
On Wednesday, No Deal suddenly seemed a likely option again. The EU were saying they would only grant Theresa May’s request for an extension if her Brexit deal passed before March 29, something that is highly unlikely.
I am told that at the No Deal ministers’ meeting on Wednesday night, “the mood was totally different to previous meetings, as people thought it might actually happen”.
It was agreed that a small group of ministers — Theresa May’s effective deputy David Lidington, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley — would meet again on Friday morning to take the preparations to the next stage.
But on Friday morning that meeting was cancelled.
Why? Because after the EU agreed to halt the UK’s departure until at least April 12, No Deal is once again highly unlikely.
This delay means if May’s deal fails again, Parliament will have enough time to step in and take control of the process.
‘NO DEAL MIGHT ACTUALLY HAPPEN’
The three options now are: May’s deal passes, a softer Brexit is agreed in the next few weeks, or there is a much longer extension to allow a General Election to be held, which could mean no Brexit at all. At the moment, the Brexit deal isn’t going to pass.
Getting it through was always going to be hard, but the errors Mrs May made this week have made it even more difficult.
As one Secretary of State puts it: “She would have been much better off spending three days in bed.”By putting No Deal back on the table, she encouraged the ERG — the Brexit hardliners in her own party — to believe voting against her deal would get them what they want.
Her speech on Wednesday night, criticising MPs, was also ill-judged, given that they are who she needs to win over.
It was particularly mistaken given May had turned down an invitation to address her own MPs that evening.
One normally mild-mannered backbencher tells me: “It was offensive to us. You decline to come and talk to us — then insult us.”
‘VOTE IS CONTINGENT ON HER GOING’
The Government’s domino strategy for winning the vote required getting the DUP to come on board.But one Downing Street source tells me: “They want the vote to be conceivably won before they consider backing it.”
There is only one way to change this dynamic — for May to offer to go if her deal passes.
This would instantly change the debate. In the past few days, one Tory MP who wants No Deal and another who wants a second referendum told me they would vote for a withdrawal agreement if they had a guarantee she would go.
“An increasing number of people are saying their vote is contingent on her going,” says a senior backbencher.
As one Cabinet minister admits: “Even that may not be enough.” But without it, there’s no chance of the deal passing next week.
James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator.
Runners line up to replace May
AMID all this uncertainty, one thing is looking increasingly clear: Britain will have a new Prime Minister soon.
Opinion has turned against Theresa May following her ill-judged speech on Wednesday.
AFP or licensors Theresa May is on the way out as opinion has turned against her
“She has managed to offend everybody,” one previously loyal minister tells me.
And one Secretary of State fumes: “She’s alienated Parliament, the Cabinet and the EU.”
There are no shortage of leadership candidates sounding people out.
Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, has the support of more Cabinet ministers than anybody else. He is seen as a safe pair of hands and as having the emotional intelligence to hold the party together.
Sajid Javid was the frontrunner. But as always happens in Tory leadership contests, that has put a target on his back. He has had a difficult few weeks and is losing support.
Cabinet ministers are convinced that Andrea Leadsom is running. They point out how, at Cabinet this week, she spoke in a string of highly quotable lines about Leave voters being let down.
NO SHORTAGE OF LEADERSHIP CANDIDATES
Liz Truss, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is also expected to go for it. But many think she is more interested in framing the debate and pushing her pro-growth agenda than anything else.
Michael Gove is being urged to stand, with Mel Stride, the well-connected Treasury minister, at the forefront of efforts to persuade Gove to run.
Matt Hancock is another being encouraged to enter the race. He is the new toast of the party donor classes, who think he offers competence. One MP describes him as “a better version of Jeremy Hunt”.
On the backbenches, Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson are competing to be the Brexiteer candidate. Raab’s campaign is better organised – he has ten MPs gathering support for him.
But Johnson has the proven electoral record and greater experience. One thing to remember, though. Tory leadership races are like the Grand National: Messy, unpredictable and the favourite rarely wins.
Be bold and call Corbyn’s bluff
THE absurdity of Labour’s Brexit position is that it accepts the withdrawal agreement.
What it takes issue with is the political declaration, which isn’t legally binding.
PA:Press Association Corbyn’s absurd Brexit stance means he won’t vote for the deal because it would mean a ‘Tory Brexit’
Voting through the Brexit deal would not stop Labour from getting to any of the softer Brexit outcomes that it has been proposing in recent months.
You could negotiate almost any kind of Brexit from the withdrawal agreement.
But Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t want to vote for it because he doesn’t want to vote for a “Tory Brexit”.A bolder government would call Labour’s bluff.
It would bring the withdrawal agreement, without the political declaration, to the Commons and dare Labour to vote it down.
If Labour blinked and the withdrawal agreement passed, we would then be out of the EU and into the transition period.
The EU would also be satisfied and consider us to have ratified the agreement.
If Labour voted down the withdrawal agreement, then it would be clear what their motives were.
Will Brady show her the door
IF there is no chance of the Brexit deal passing unless Theresa May promises to go, who can tell her that?
This is what ministers have been discussing with each other in the past 48 hours. They think her No10 aides won’t, so somebody else needs to.
PA:Press Association Sir Graham Brady is the obvious choice to tell Theresa May that she’s got to go if her deal is to pass
The obvious candidate is Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs. Brady is discreet and respected. But it is now time for him to put on his grey suit and carry this message to May.
May promising to go so long as the withdrawal agreement is passed would show that it really isn’t all about her.
And history would view her in a much more sympathetic light.
Corbz and May united against EU elections happening
ONE reason why the UK might end up leaving the EU by April 12 is the Labour leadership don’t want the European elections to take place any more than Theresa May does.
They know parties in favour of a second referendum would attack Labour for its equivocation on this point.
Jeremy Corbyn, who walked out of a meeting this week because Chuka Umunna had been invited, wouldn’t want to give the breakaway Independent Group such a perfect launch pad.
‘Frustrated’ Theresa May stresses importance of Commons passing her Brexit deal after EU talks as she softens tone towards ‘passionate’ MPs