Our snap survey. Almost two-thirds of Party members want the Prime Minister out now. Over a third back her.

The Prime Minister can take comfort in the decisive break for in her favour from those presented with this forced choice.

Last month, 50 per cent of our panel said that the Prime Minister should resign as Party leader now, 30 per cent before the next election is due in 2022. Eighteen per cent backed her staying on.

In very rough terms, two thirds of that 30 per cent seem to have have swung behind Theresa May in this special survey, and a third to have done the opposite.

Obviously, it’s a shocking result when almost two-thirds of your own activists oppose you, but the Prime Minister can take some comfort in winning the support of over a third – and in the result of the forced choice that this survey presented.

None the less, if Downing Street is pumping claims of membership backing at Conservative MPs, it won’t be able to cite this survey as evidence.  Not long now until we have a proper result.

WATCH: Brady – “The Prime Minister was very keen that matters be resolved as quickly as is reasonably possible.”

“The Prime Ministers will address colleagues at the 1922 Committee meeting at 17.00 and immediately after that meeting a ballot will be held between six and eight.”

158 is not the magic number

A confidence ballot may be declared today, and it may not. But if it is, a simple majority for May might not be enough.

Godot is within sight, the boy is crying “wolf” at the top of his voice – and Wesminster is assuming that a ballot of confidence in Theresa May’s leadership will be declared today.  Graham Brady has reportedly received at least 48 letters demanding one.

Sir Graham being Sir Graham, he is keeping mum, exactly as he should, and it is still possible that the reports are wrong.  This being so, we will simply report that, if they aren’t, the confidence ballot is likely to take place later this week or early next.  If the Prime Minister isn’t successful in it, there is time for the Parliamentary stage of a leadership election to take place next week – indeed, more than enough, since the Commons doesn’t rise until next Thursday, December 20.  The membership stage would take place after Christmas.

We write about May being successful (or not successful) rather than winning (or losing) because of an important point.  It is being claimed that “158 is the magic number” – since 157.7 is what one is left with if one divides the 315 MPs in receipt of the Conservative whip in half.

But imagine for a moment that 159 votes express confidence in her leadership, if a ballot takes place, and 156 do not.  Could she then carry on as Party leader?  We believe not.  The ballot would not have found sufficient consensus for her leadership.  We cite a precedent.  204 votes were cast for Margaret Thatcher during the 1990 Conservative leadership contest, and 168 were not – 152 Tory MPs opted for Michael Heseltine and 16 abstained.  She won a clear majority of those voting.  But she was forced out none the less.

In reply, you may quote the 1995 leadership contest, in which over a third of Conservative MPs didn’t back John Major – a substantial proportion.  But he stayed on.  We would counter-object that there is a difference between a third and, say, just under half.

At which point, others might join the conversation, pointing out that the rules of Tory leadership contests have changed since 1995, let alone 1990.  Which reinforces our point: deciding what does and doesn’t count as success in a Conservative leadership contest is an art, not a science.  As much depends on expectation – not to mention who spins loudest and longest – as figures.  Personality, mood, psyops and that glorious Burkean word, circumstances: all play their part in deciding the drama.  There is no magic number.

Jeremy Hunt, Sajid Javid and other Cabinet members with leadership aspirations will tremble at the possibility of the Prime Minister winning any ballot, but not winning well.  That would set up a conflict between loyalty and ambition from which they might not emerge undamaged.

Daniel Hannan: We still have time to switch course from disaster. Just. It’s up to Conservative MPs to act now.

Still, the logic is clear enough. The EU’s choice would be between no backstop and nothing else either; or no backstop and agreement on everything else.

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

Widen the shot to see what is going on. News developments are now battering us so fast that we can become punch-drunk. The contempt motion, the pulled vote, the collapse of Theresa May’s two-year negotiating strategy and now, reportedly, the 48 letters. It can seem overwhelming. But stand back for a moment and look at the big picture. All these events stem from one cause.

In June 2016, 17.4 million of us voted to leave the EU. Although MPs and peers had voted heavily the other way, most of them initially accepted the verdict and initiated the disengagement process. But there were some who refused to accept the verdict. They were not interested in softening Brexit. They wanted to overturn the result.

Some launched campaigns for a second referendum. Some brought legal challenges. Some operated campaign grids, co-ordinating scare stories in a rerun of the 2016 poll. As the months passed, many MPs who had initially been shell-shocked by the result began to see a way to thwart it.

The best way to stop Brexit, they reasoned, was to ensure that the terms on which it was offered were so dreadful that even Leavers would see them as a deterioration of our current position. They encouraged Brussels to take the hardest possible line. “You don’t need to worry that Britain might walk away”, they whispered to Eurocrats. “We’ll make sure that Parliament won’t allow a no-deal Brexit”.

Does that sound like a conspiracy theory? Am I alleging that British politicians would side with EU negotiators against their own country? That they would actively work against a mutually advantageous deal? Yes, that’s precisely what I’m alleging, but’s not a conspiracy – except possibly in the sense of what H.G. Wells once called “an open conspiracy”. On the contrary, it has been brazen. Two months ago, for example, John Major, Nick Clegg and Michael Heseltine – a former Prime Minister and two former Deputy Prime Ministers – co-authored an article in a German newspaper urging the EU to hang tough. Such is the Kulturkampf that has raged here since the vote that, instead of being disowned by patriotic Remainers, they were applauded.

Not that Eurocrats needed much persuasion. They are accustomed to overturning referendum results, having done so across the EU, from Ireland to Greece. The truly surprising thing – the unforgivable thing, indeed – was the reluctance of our own Government seriously to prepare for a no-deal outcome. As Theresa May swallowed one humiliating demand after another – the sequencing, the non-voting membership period, the money, the backstop – EU negotiators concluded that, in the end, she would sign whatever they put in front of her.

Which brings us to where we are, facing terms that no self-respecting democracy could accept. The EU has made calculatedly vindictive demands: the regulatory annexation of Northern Ireland, unconditional financial transfers, permanent control of UK trade policy. Yet even as it issues those demands, it is careful to let us know that we can always drop the whole idea. As Donald Tusk put it in Buenos Aires, with a knowing smirk, it’s either these terms “or no Brexit”. On cue, and with unprecedented haste, the ECJ declared that we could cancel Article 50 at the stroke of a pen. (In this case, incidentally, there had been no alleged breach of the treaties. A court concerned only with the letter of the law would have ruled it inadmissible. But, of course, Euro-judges have always made up the rules in order to advance the project.)

At least the EU’s strategy – or, if you prefer, Continuity Remain’s strategy – is now in plain sight. The idea is to offer us a choice between Mrs May’s abominable terms and staying in. From a Leave point of view, such a referendum would be – as the Nobel Prizewinning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa once described an election in our native Peru – a choice between AIDS and cancer.

If there is a second referendum, Leavers will surely organise a boycott. Having listened to all the assurances that the 2016 referendum would be final and binding – assurances that were made especially strenuously, funnily enough, by Nick Clegg and John Major – why legitimise a rerun? After all, the people demanding a new referendum are, by definition, people who don’t accept referendum results. So we’d presumably end up with a 99 per cent Remain vote on a turnout of less than 40 per cent, invalidating the whole exercise.

And in the meantime? In the meantime, Britain would have suffered a reputational collapse worse than Suez, having tried and failed to recover its independence. Our democracy would go through its worst trauma since 1832. And – it seems almost a small thing given the scale of the national tragedy, but for what it’s worth – the Conservative Party would be finished.

Is there a way to avert this disaster? Yes. We are where we are as a result of the decisions made by May. She believes in the proposed deal, she tells us, with every fibre of her being. A new Prime Minister could remove the backstop and offer the EU the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement. Brussels would initially reject this proposal, but a different leader might do the one thing that she has not been ready to do, namely prepare, fully and spiritedly, for a no-deal withdrawal – while leaving the offer on the table.

Would the EU junk the most uncontentious elements of the agreement, such as reciprocal rights for each other’s citizens, over a backstop that London, Dublin and Brussels all say they never want to see come into effect anyway? It’s hard to say. Negotiators can be backed into irrational positions. Still, the logic is clear enough. The EU’s choice would be between no backstop and nothing else either; or no backstop and agreement on everything else. At that stage, we might well find some alternative, such as a UK-Ireland bilateral treaty guaranteeing no new border infrastructure.

We still have time to switch course. Just. It’s up to Conservative MPs to decide now.

Chicken May

Is she chickening out on Brexit? Or playing chicken with Commons and Party over her deal? Or merely a headless chicken herself – bent on daily survival?

What now is Theresa May’s plan, this morning after the day before?  The simplest explanations are often the most convincing.  In her case, this is: she no longer has one.  Her ambitions for country, party and self have shrunk to seeing each day out.  The most primal of human instincts has taken over, more urgent even than the drives to sex and food: simply to survive. Clinging to office fills her horizon.  She shuffles on into a void.  The will to power has left her a ghost.  Perhaps that is all that can be said.

But there are two other potential answers, assuming that she is not brooding on a general election or preparing to resign – a move that would be out of character for a woman who appears to equate being Prime Minister, whatever the circumstances, with doing her duty.  These explanations are worth probing because, with the future of country, Party and Brexit at stake, Conservative MPs, activists and others must work every faculty to read the signs of the times accurately, and then act promptly.

The first is that she has already decided to postpone Brexit, seek a second referendum, or both.  This take has it that she knows very well that her deal will not be substantially improved by the EU; that it therefore cannot pass through Parliament; that the Remain-friendly Commons will shortly bid for control of its proceedings and timetable – and that she will then, a confidence vote from her Parliamentary Party notwithstanding, give way.  No deal is better than a bad deal has been supplanted by any deal is better than no deal.

Like an empty boat being pushed by the tide, she will drift along with the five-sixths or so of MPs who see a no deal Brexit as the ultimate political evil.  Perhaps the Commons will somehow pull for Norway Plus instead; more likely, it won’t.  It was worth watching which Cabinet heads nodded on her own front bench yesterday when she reiterated the Government’s present stance on a second referendum – and which didn’t.  Greg Clark’s didn’t so much as twitch.  David Lidington and David Gauke are also reported to be ready for a U-turn.

As for that policy – opposition to another referendum – how sure is it?  Indeed, what faith can we place in any commitment that May makes on Brexit, or indeed on anything else?  She promised that she wouldn’t call an election last year; that her Brexit policy would be based on “a comprehensive system of mutual recognition”; that migration would be controlled during transition; that transition wouldn’t be extended; that she would oppose new regulatory barriers in the Irish sea. Ministers were told last year that the backstop had no legal effect.

Politics is a rough old trade, and bending the truth is, as elsewhere in life, part of it.  But even by the standards of Westminster, the Prime Minister’s breaches are brazen.  Leave aside as debatable those manifesto commitments on the Customs Union, the ECJ and the Single Market, and look at the events of recent days.  May said that the EU would not offer us a better deal if the present draft is rejected.  Now she suggests that it can be improved after all, not ruling out changes to the Withdrawal Agreement itself yesterday.

Stephen Barclay and Gove were sent out – the latter only yesterday morning – to assure the public that the meaningful vote would go ahead.  As late as 11am, the Prime Minister’s spokesman was insisting that this was so, even as Cabinet Ministers were briefing that it wasn’t.  Small details like these have big consequences.  Near the core of May’s problem in selling her deal to MPs is that too many of them have simply lost trust in her.  Some no longer believe assurances even when they are accurate – say, on future divergence.

The second interpretation of the Prime Minister’s thinking is completely different.  We advance it with some hesitation, because it may represent less a scheme crafted deliberately than one stumbled upon by accident.  The sum of her statement yesterday was that the meaningful vote is postponed.  She gave no indication whatsoever of when it will be brought back.  In reply to Justine Greening, she suggested that the Government is obliged to hold it by January 21.  Later that day, that was flatly contradicted by the Commons authorities.

Under their interpretation, May’s real deadline is March 28, since the Commons must ratify any amended deal reached with the EU no later than that date.  This could open up an opportunity for the Prime Minister to play a risky game of chicken with our EU interlocuters, the Commons and the Party.  For the later the meaningful vote takes place, the more sharply a no deal Brexit will loom.  This might open up an option for her: don’t rush for a settlement pre-Christmas, but spin out the talks instead – thus ramping up pressure on MPs.

It is possible to think May now believes that, under that pressure, the EU will fold next year, and offer a time limit or a unilateral exit from the backstop.  Or that she is concluding the Commons would collapse, even if the EU did not – that, with March 28 and no deal immiment, Labour would buckle and abstain, together with other opposition parties.  Or that even if Jeremy Corbyn did not, some Labour MPs would.  Meanwhile, Conservative opponents could be steered into the abstention column, and Tory abstainers into the aye lobby.

Now, this scenario makes many assumptions: that the Prime Minister will still be in place; that there is no Cabinet revolt; that the Commons has not, by the New Year, wrested control from the Government altogether; that MPs do not (if May seeks to spin out her dealings with the EU) revolt, propose the postponement of Article 50 and perhaps a second referendum, and then see her back down; that the Prime Minister has not been censured, or the Government no confidenced.

But one can also see how the truth could be found here – that May is not so much a headless chicken herself, or seeking to chicken out of Brexit but, rather, now sees before her this game of chicken unfolding as next year unfolds.  It would have one immeasurable plus from her point of view.  It would if successful be a win.  Her deal would have triumphed.  She would have crushed her internal opponents – hard Brexiteers, Norwegians, second referendum supporters: the lot.  The stage would be set for her to go on and on and on towards 2022.

So, back to the present. The wolf has cried 48 letters many times.  It may be that, unlike the animal in the fable, it never comes: that waiting for those letters is like waiting for Godot.  The next 24 hours or so may represent the last chance before the New Year for Tory MPs to act.  Some may do so, convinced that the Prime Minister is beyond rescue.  Others may waver still, terrified of the effect of a leadership challenge on what’s left of the negotiation, or unconvinced by May’s potential replacements.

Our bottom line is that the referendum result must be delivered.  If pro-Brexit MPs believe May is now set on a chicken game, they may stay their hand.  If they conclude that she is set on abandoning Brexit, they won’t and shouldn’t.  On Sunday, we recommended that Tory MPs should send in letters if no substantial change to the backstop emerges this week.  Perhaps the most reliable guide should be what could be called the Greg Hands test – namely, to send in those letters if real preparations for no deal aren’t announced before the weekend.

Chris White: A guide to what could happen in the Commons this week

I set out what could happen – and translate what the amendments to the Government’s motion mean.

Chris White was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House. He is now Managing Director of Newington Communications.

On Tuesday, the Government will face its toughest test – trying to get its Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament. Eight hours of debate will be followed by a series of votes that will decide the future of the UK, as well as the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party. The stakes could not be higher.

Over 100 Conservative MPs have publicly declared they will vote against the Theresa May’s deal. Yet it is important to remember that there might not even be a vote on the deal. Equally, an amendment could pass which if won, would mean no vote on the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement. Below I set out what could happen, as well as translate what the motions actually mean.

The Government caves in and changes the Parliamentary business, or fails to move the vote, because it knows it is going to lose

The numbers look terrible for the Government, and there have been no MPs who have publicly swapped sides to endorse the Prime Minister’s deal. The reality of the situation is that the Government knows that it is going to lose, and so could decide to pull the vote and seek state that it accepts it won’t get it through Parliament. Graham Brady, Chair of the 1922 Committee, took the highly unusual step of recommending this in the media. This would be highly embarrassing, but would avoid a humiliating defeat, with the Prime Minister forced to go back to Brussels to renegotiate. There are two ways of doing this:

  • Emergency Business Statement: The Leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, either on Monday or Tuesday at the start of Parliamentary business, makes a statement changing the business for the day, pulling the last day of debate and the votes.
  • The Government Minister winding up the debate ‘talks out’ the votes: The business motion for the debate has been cleverly drafted – under section 10 (c), only a Minister may move a closure, which basically means if they are still standing and speaking at the end of the debate, the votes won’t be moved.

An amendment to the Government motion is passed, politically changing the deal

In the table below I’ve listed the 13 amendments tabled so far by MPs. Of these, six will be selected by the Speaker – it’s not certain which he will select, but some have more chance than others – my current thinking is amendments (a) (b) (i) (k) (l) and (m). It’s unlikely that the official Labour one would succeed – amendment (a) – as Tory MPs and the DUP won’t support it, and of the others:

Hilary Benn – amendment (i) explicitly rejects the UK leaving on no deal, and demands the Government move straight to the final Parliamentary debate under the terms of the EU Withdrawal Act. This is the one which the Government lost a vote on last week, which basically means that Parliament is able to direct Government politically which course of action it should pursue. Whilst this isn’t binding under legislation, and the Government could still theoretically leave under no deal terms, it would be politically challenging to do so.

Backbench Conservative – there are three motions which seek to do similar things (b) (e) and (f) – force the Government to place a time limit on the NI backstop, or to reject the backstop. Even if this passed, the UK Government would have to seek agreement from the EU.

Liberal Democrat – amendment (l) calls on the UK Government to hold a second referendum. This would require primary legislation, and even if passed swiftly, such a referendum could not be held within the next 5 months because of the time needed to organise.

No amendments are passed, but the main Government motion fails as well

In this scenario, all votes fail, and the Commons fails to both pass the Withdrawal Agreement, and direct the Government what to do next. This would be hugely damaging to the Prime Minister. Under the EU Withdrawal Act the Government has 21 days to make a statement to the Commons setting out what it plans to do next, and within seven days of that statement the Government must bring forward a motion for the House to consider. This motion can now be amended following the Government’s defeat next week, and the Commons would be able to express a view on what to do next, though this would not be binding on the Government.

What could happen next?

If the Government motion fails, and all amendments fail, then there are several things that might happen:

  • May could face a vote of no confidence in the Commons. Kier Starmer has said that Labour would table a vote, but with the DUP stating that they would support the Conservatives in such a vote, this is unlikely to succeed. If the Government did fall, there would be 14 days for another Government to win a vote of confidence in the Commons, or the country will have a General Election.
  • Conservative MPs put in 48 letters, and the party has to have a confidence vote in the Prime Minister. If 48 letters go in, this would require a swift vote of confidence, where May must win more than 50 per cemt of the 315 eligible MPs. If she lost, the party then has to elect a new leader. Given the incredibly short timescale before 29th March, the Conservative Party would be signing its own death warrant to do this.
  • Labour tries to table a censure motion about May – this is effectively a personal vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, which is what happened recently to Chris Grayling. This would potentially allow Tory MPs to vote against the May without bringing down the Government. However the Government is under no obligation to provide time for an Opposition Day before Christmas, so this is unlikely to happen.
  • The Prime Minister goes to negotiate with Brussels and brings back an amended deal. This would then require the Government to win a vote on its renegotiated deal, using the procedure outlined above.
    If no negotiated deal can pass through the Commons the UK will leave the EU without a deal.

My best guess is that if the Government doesn’t pull the vote, then none of the amendments or the main motion will pass. The Government will then be forced to return to Brussels and try and renegotiate, whilst no-confidence motions in the Government or the Prime Minister are unlikely to succeed due to the dire situation the Tory Party would find itself in. What happens next will depend on whether the Prime Minister can remove either the backstop, or insert a time limit on it, in order for the deal to satisfy enough Tory MPs.

List of amendments before the House – Green means likely to be selected by the Speaker for voting, yellow means a reasonable chance of being selected.

Why I, a staunch Brexiteer, support the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement

In the face of a rigidly ideological, hard-left Labour Party, it is the duty of all Conservatives to embrace pragmatic political thinking in order to maximise real-world policy benefits. When it comes to Brexit, I believe that means backing the Prime Minister’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement in the Commons vote this week. Put simply, there is […]

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In the face of a rigidly ideological, hard-left Labour Party, it is the duty of all Conservatives to embrace pragmatic political thinking in order to maximise real-world policy benefits. When it comes to Brexit, I believe that means backing the Prime Minister’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement in the Commons vote this week. Put simply, there is no viable alternative; voting down May’s deal could throw the entire Brexit project wildly off course.

No Deal is not a plausible option. I do not make that statement as a Remainer who professes through gritted teeth to have accepted the referendum result as ‘the will of the British people’ but will lurch towards any opportunity to keep the UK as closely aligned to the EU as possible. Rather, I have long touted the benefits of an independent trade policy, unilateral immigration controls and true parliamentary sovereignty. Had I been of age in June 2016, I would have voted to leave the EU. I truly believe that the best way to grasp the opportunities presented by Brexit is by implementing the terms of Theresa May’s Agreement.

It seems to me that the key arguments presented by proponents of No Deal tend to wither under scrutiny. Whilst the notion of a ‘clean break’ might sound attractive in theory, when it comes to politics – “the art of the possible” – clean breaks are almost never desirable. If we were to leave the EU without a deal next March, British business would suffer immensely in the short term because of chaos at the ports and the instantaneous evaporation of any and all frictionless trade, thereby infringing on our ability to do trade deals elsewhere. Perhaps most devastatingly, a destructive hard border of one form or another would wreak havoc in Ireland. As much as one might resent the legacy of Tony Blair, tearing up the Good Friday Agreement would be like putting a hard border behind the nose to spite the face, to misquote Saint Ebba.

The most common rebuttal to this argument is that temporary measures could be put in place to ease the transition. Economist Ruth Lea, for instance, insists that deals would be done to avert chaos in the short term. Similarly, Dominic Raab talks enthusiastically of a so-called ‘managed No Deal’. The rhetoric of No Deal is loud and proud until it comes to inconvenient realities, when it seems that its feasibility suddenly comes to rest on the implementation of deals, which rather defeats the point. One is inclined to suggest that these deals could be agreed in advance and combined into some form of Withdrawal Agreement that could be put to a vote in the Commons.

The idea of a managed No Deal is a contradiction in terms. No Deal is, by its very definition, unmanaged, and that is precisely why it cannot work. It goes against every fibre of my political being to side with the Europhiles against the Brexiteers on this, but it seems that Corbyn’s ideological politics has had such a momentous effect on the climate of our discourse that even hardline Conservatives have become so idealistic that, having spent their entire careers campaigning for Brexit, they now find themselves denouncing it as it sits in front of them.

The consequences of No Deal, if it were to happen (which appears increasingly unlikely), will rest on the heads of those who voted down the proposed Agreement. Of course, some preliminary mitigating measures have been taken on both the British and European sides but, as the Government’s incessant PR machine has been saying repeatedly for the past eighteen months, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

If it turns out that, in the end, nothing is agreed (i.e. No Deal comes to the fore) the Conservative Party risks consigning itself to electoral oblivion for the foreseeable future. Barely three years ago, the UK’s third biggest party signed its own death warrant via an innocuous policy on tuition fees. If the Tory Party suddenly decides that it disagrees with itself on Brexit and causes us to crash out of Europe as a result, the consequences would be unimaginably grave, in the long term as well as the short.

If No Deal is out of the picture, what are the alternatives? Super Canada? Norway plus? Iceland minus? Lapland squared? The bandying about of totally unattainable hypothetical alternative deals is counter-productive and farcical. The Prime Minister’s Agreement is the only one that achieves all the required outcomes from Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. It is a remarkable exercise in pragmatism.

Renegotiation of the Agreement is clearly a fantasy best left to those on the Opposition benches. Even so, there is no other course of action that solves the Irish border problem. As the Prime Minister has pointed out time and time again, every conceivable withdrawal agreement must have a backstop element. I was fascinated by a remark from a Remain-voting Tory MP recently that Brexiteers’ apparent shock and horror when the draft Agreement was published last month seemed almost entirely artificial. For anyone who had been following Brexit, there were no major unexpected concessions at all.

The backstop solution is ingeniously designed for the mutual benefit of us and the EU (though mainly us) so that we essentially have access to the Customs Union that is free from both cost and Single Market immigration, an arrangement undoubtedly much coveted by many of our neighbours. It is not in Brussels’ interest to ‘trap’ us in the backstop for that reason, as well as the fact that their bad faith would be visible to the whole world and their trading reputation would be irreparably damaged.

The other major achievement of the backstop is that it negates the ludicrous ‘backstop to the backstop’ scenario. If a backstop needs a backstop, it is not a backstop. Calls for the insertion of a unilateral withdrawal clause are fatuous; I struggle to believe that all the Brexiteers who lament the lack of such a clause fail to understand that its presence would defeat the very point of the backstop. A safety net is of no significance if it can be yanked away at any moment. There is no feasible backstop-less withdrawal agreement, real or hypothetical. The inevitable conclusion is that many of the Prime Minister’s critics had already made up their minds to resolutely oppose her deal and latched onto the backstop as a means of doing that, despite it being cataclysmically unwise (assuming one actually wants Brexit to happen).

Somebody commented to me recently that the language surrounding the Withdrawal Agreement is highly misleading; it is just that, an agreement, not a ‘deal’ as it is so often called. Given the uproar it has provoked, one would be forgiven for thinking that it pertained to Britain’s long-term relationship with the EU, rather than merely the terms of our departure. The doomsday predictions of an impending government collapse which seem to re-emerge with a renewed vigour almost hourly make the Agreement seem much more consequential than it truly is. Canada+++ is a very good post-Brexit option. The Political Declaration is evidently mere bluster; the true negotiations for the future relationship have not yet got underway in earnest. They have nothing to do with the Withdrawal Agreement.

History will look back on Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement as an impressive political feat: she has emerged against all odds bearing an Agreement that is not only workable but ticks all the necessary boxes. That there has been a stark lack of sincere support for it from outside her government staggers me. The Financial Times clenched its jaw and reluctantly endorsed the Agreement, though at great pains throughout to stress that it still believes Brexit is “an act of national self-harm”. On the other side of the debate, Tim Montgomerie takes the line: “I know it’s rubbish, but it’s the best we’ve got” in his justification for backing the deal. The defence offered by both sides is hardly a ringing endorsement.

Providing a comprehensive analysis of the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement in a space such as this is an impossibility, but I believe I have covered the key points. I hereby wish to buck this depressing trend by humbly offering my whole-hearted, enthusiastic support for the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement. It is a commendable achievement in every sense.

Photocredit: ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

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Why Conservative MPs should prepare to call for a confidence vote in the Prime Minister’s leadership this week

A new leader will be a surer means of delivering Brexit if she can’t extract last-minute backstop concessions.

It may now not be possible for the Government to postpone Tuesday’s evening’s coming vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.  Or the Speaker – that friend of Labour and enemy of Brexit – may somehow block any such move.  Or Downing Street may find some face-saving amendment that minimises the scale of defeat.

But whatever happens, the Prime Minister has a last chance this week to amend the element of the deal that makes it unacceptable: the backstop.  So whether or not the vote takes place, she must push the EU in Brussels on Thursday for a unilateral right of exit or a time limit.

We have no confidence that such a manoeuvre will succeed if executed by her at this stage.  It could just be that, confronted by the prospect of a disorderly Brexit on its north-west frontier, the EU gives way.  But it is far more likely to stand firm, hoping – with reason – that May will then lose control of the Commons altogether, which will then push for the postponement of Article 50 and a second referendum, to which pressure she will yield.  The European Court is primed to pave the way for this development on Monday.  Furthermore, backing down on the backstop would mean the EU27 deserting one of its own, the country which has been the biggest winner in the negotiation to date: Ireland.

The Prime Minister would then have three policy options: that second referendum, Norway-plus-the-backstop and no deal.  Since she opposes all of them, the logic of the impasse would point to resignation.  But we read May as believing that it would be her duty as a public servant to carry on.  And what seems to animate her most is a fear of no deal – an outcome which the Government has had a duty to prepare for, which it has failed properly to do.

She would therefore bend either to cross-party pressure for the Norway scheme, or for that second referendum – thereby spitting in the face of the biggest-ever vote in British electoral history, breaking her own manifesto commitments, and crafting a narrative of betrayal that threatens frightening consequences for the country.  Even if she doesn’t do all this, however, the point at which she provided effective leadership and credible negotiating is past, if the backstop can’t be altered this week.

Conservative MPs will therefore have no alternative, if she can’t extract that last-minute change, but to write to Graham Brady seeking a vote of confidence in May’s leadership.  Cabinet members are preparing for this development already: today’s papers are packed with details of fledgling leadership campaigns, and Amber Rudd has already broken with Downing Street by supporting a Plan B (Norway-plus-the-backstop) if Plan A fails.

The way would thus be open for candidates supporting a second referendum, the Norway scheme or no deal to MPs and Party members.  We suspect that the eventual outcome would favour that last option.  The new Prime Minister would then face a titanic struggle between the Conservative manifesto position, reinforced by Party members, and those MPs determined to flout the referendum mandate.  His or her message to Commons and the country would be: the government I lead will deliver the referendum result.  If you want to thwart me, the only means available to you will be a vote of no confidence.

Ultimately, the argument for this course is that the alternative is even worse.  May’s threat of a Corbyn Government before Christmas is evidence of her desperation and – unless the EU somehow saves her – ruin.  For the DUP has made it clear that it will only abandon the Conservatives if her deal passes the Commons, not if it fails.

Chris Grayling: Here at Transport, we’re getting ready for Brexit – whatever happens. But here’s why I’m backing May’s deal.

If I had been offered this before the referendum in 2016, I would have seen it as a much better alternative to the status quo inside the EU,

Chris Grayling is Secretary of State for Transport, and MP for Epsom and Ewell.

Last week, the UK and the US signed a new aviation agreement which will cement the air links between us once the UK leaves the EU. The agreement secures the existing air links, and sets out the ways in which new operators can enter the market in future. We have worked closely with airlines on both sides of the Atlantic to make sure we get this deal right.

Then at the weekend, we also concluded our agreement with Canada, sorting out the last significant one of our non-EU aviation links after Brexit. Within Europe, both the European Commission and other member states have been clear that there will be an aviation agreement regardless of the broader agreement – so people can feel free to book their holidays next year without any concern to countries both inside and outside the European Union.

We’re also carrying on with detailed preparation for all eventualities after Brexit. We are making provision to ease the pressure on Dover and Calais if there are customs hold ups after we leave. We are making sure British motorists have easy access to international driving licences if they are needed.

But none of us want that to happen – and certainly not the thousands of small businesses who operate in the transport field. They want a deal, and a smooth transition to the world outside the EU.

So now the focus is on delivering that broader EU exit agreement. I campaigned for Brexit in 2016, and I have not changed my view that Britain is better outside the EU, but remaining good friends and neighbours with our current EU partners. My reason for campaigning to leave was that I believe further EU integration to be necessary and inevitable if the Eurozone is to survive in the long term, and I do not believe that it is right for the UK to give up more and more of our national sovereignty.

But I am absolutely clear that the country did not vote to sever ties with our neighbours or to leave on bad terms. I believe that virtually everyone would wish to continue good relations with those countries.

For centuries, Britain has been an outward-facing, global, trading nation. In the post-Brexit world that is particularly important for all of us. Our goal is to remain good friends and neighbours with our EU partners, but also to ensure that we build and deepen ties around the world.

Good aviation links are vital if we are to achieve that. It’s why we are moving ahead with the expansion of Heathrow. It’s why we have given regional airports greater freedom to develop expanded links. And it’s why we have made sorting out updated aviation agreements to cover life outside the EU a priority.

A lot of the focus right now is on the Prime Minister, and her work to secure backing for the deal. But the British public, and Conservative MPs, should not forget the disgraceful behaviour of the Labour Party over all of this.

When I campaigned round the country for Leave, I was as warmly welcomed in Labour heartlands as in traditional Conservative areas.

Jeremy Corbyn is letting those people down, trapped as he is in a bubble of fellow travellers within the champagne socialism of a certain clique in Islington. They will not forgive him if he votes to keep free movement of people and unlimited immigration. They will not forgive him if he leaves the UK obliged to sign up to new EU laws in future. They will not forgive him if he leaves our fisheries open to all comers.

The Labour leader was always a Leaver. He claims to be a man of principle. But he’s abandoning Brexit for Party political reasons. And it will also be the final sign for millions of traditional Labour voters that their party has once and for all abandoned them.

I believe that we now need to get on with leaving the EU in March, but also to make sure we do so on good terms.

The main challenge from opponents of the current deal is focused on the backstop in it. This is a temporary arrangement that could be used if there was a delay to the final trade deal after 2020. But it is not intended to be a permanent arrangement, and both we and the EU have been clear about that. It would also be unworkable for the EU for any length of time – it would mean every time they wanted to change their laws, they would do so in the knowledge that we had no obligation to do the same, and that our business might be more competitive as a result. That is not a position that they could accept for any length of time.

The agreement which we are being asked to consider as MPs ends the free movement of people, ends the role of the European Court in the UK, leaves the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy, and means that we are no longer required to adopt EU laws. We have agreed to maintain, for example, high environmental and social standards – but that’s something we would want to do anyway. If I had been offered this before the referendum in 2016, I would have seen it as a much better alternative to the status quo inside the EU, where we have little control over many of these things and where more and more integration is inevitable. So we need to get behind the Prime Minister.