To Hell with Tusk

All he may have achieved is to make the No Deal that neither side of the negotiations wants marginally more likely.

Donald Tusk has it the wrong way round.  Those to whom he was clearly referring – pro-Brexit Conservative politicians – had a “sketch of a plan”, and more.  It was more or less the Canada-style proposal that he proposed on March 7 last year, and described himself as a “Canada Plus Plus Plus” plan on October 4, echoing the language of David Davis and others.  The main divergence between those Brexiteers and himself was over the Northern Ireland backstop.  So he should not be entirely surprised that the Commons has now rejected it, and that that he, the EU and the UK are where they are today.

What has brought all three to this pass is not disagreement among Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and the former Vote Leave Team, but the refusal of the Commons (broadly) and the Conservatives (specifically) to unite behind a Canada-type plan.  None the less, Tusk cannot now complain that he doesn’t know what both want where the Withdrawal Agreement is concerned.  The former has voted for junking the backstop and the latter agrees that it must change, at the very least (with the exception of a small band in this case of Remainers and Soft Brexiteers).  The most likely driver of Tusk’s remark, which was carefully planned and promoted, is that he is frustrated by the Commons’ unwillingness to roll over.  That is certainly Hell – at least for him.

There will be other readings of his words.  One is that he knows that the EU will, in time, offer concessions on the backstop, if the Commons holds firm – even if these are not the removal outlined in the Brady amendment and the Malthouse Plan.  And that this frustrates him.  Another is that he and the EU are determined not to make any such offer now.  They are waiting to see if the Commons hares off in the other direction to that it took last week: in other words, whether it will vote next week for the Cooper amendment, or something like it, thereby making it likely that the Commons will take control of the negotiation and shift towards a Norway Plus-type approach.  It may be that the point of Jeremy Corbyn’s latest volte-face on Brexit is to anticipate precisely that.

On this site yesterday, Richard Graham wrote about how political positions can emerge by accident – by the different actors mis-reading each others’ intentions.  The UK and Brexiteers themselves have sometimes misread the EU’s.  But the reverse is also true, and Tusk’s remarks may be evidence of it.   His calculation may be to try to isolate the European Research Group and Cabinet pro-Leavers.  But all he may have achieved is to bolster the view among many voters, not all of whom voted Leave in 2016, that the EU is dragging its feet and gambling on MPs backing down.  Hence perhaps the support for No Deal we’re seeing on the BBC’s Question Time – and elsewhere.

The Moggcast. “The backstop has to go.” Rees-Mogg sets out his red lines.

He talks Brady, Norway, prorogation, and postponing Article 50, and explains why the ERG is “not a fourth party”. Plus: does the Queen listen to the Moggcast?

You can also listen and subscribe to the Moggcast on iTunes, through our YouTube channel, or through the RSS feed here.

Stella Creasy & Debbie Abrahams: A referendum got us here. Now let a Citizens’ Assembly – and more direct democracy – take us forward.

We want to learn from what other Parliaments have done when faced with difficult choices. Such an assembly would report back within ten weeks.

Stella Creasy is the Labour and Cooperative MP for Walthamstow. Debbie Abrahams is the Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth.

Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. As Parliament enters the No deal, Prime Minister’s deal, Norway, Canada, People’s Vote, extend Article 50 merry-go-round once more, we hope to convince readers of ConservativeHome there may be a better approach. Specifically, of the lessons that Ireland’s abortion debate offers – and about the role that a Citizen’s Assembly played in informing their parliament’s decision-making, and which could now save us all from delirium.

Concerns that there is an inbuilt advantage to any one political party, social class or indeed region, have dogged our representative democracy for decades. They have led to many suggested solutions – whether these be electoral reform, boundary reviews or even mandatory deselections.

Direct democracy through referendums on hot topics such as Europe and voting reform was supposed to improve democratic engagement – yet lofty ambitions of echoing Athenian state ideals, in which every one of its 30,000 citizens could speak and vote, lie in tatters following the reality of the reaction of many to the Brexit vote and its legitimacy. 

Less well-known is that alongside its big debating forums, Athens also had a panel of 500 citizens, chosen by drawing lots, to oversee the everyday affairs of the city. Sortition – the practice of random selection to put people into such positions of power – wasn’t just used in ancient Greece. Italian republics such as Venice and Florence also used it instead of elections to choose those who ran these city states. It is the same process our court system still uses to select a jury.

For the avoidance of doubt, we are not proposing solving Brexit by randomly selecting members of the public to replace the current crop of MPs – though faced with prevarication in Westminster, some may feel that the suggesiton is tempting. Instead, we want to learn from what other Parliaments have done when faced with difficult choices and stubborn politicians. This is why we have tabled Amendment H, calling for a Citizen’s Assembly to be convened on Brexit which would report back within ten weeks with its recommendations on how to end the current impasse.

Sortition is at the heart of the authority of a modern Citizen’s Assembly. As with Athens, a civic lottery would be held to identify a long list of thousands of people. Then, controlling for geography and demography – as well as checking there is no innate bias to either remain or leave – a panel would be drawn from this of 250 people who reflect the dynamics of British society. Unlike MPs elected to represent their communities, these people would not be there to be the decision makers, but to give their opinions and help to inform debate. They would be multiple fresh pair of eyes. With expert help, the panel would then be asked to identify what their priorities and perspectives are regarding the quagmire around the EU withdrawal act.

Unlike public meetings or BBC Question Time audiences, where those who can be bothered to turn up or have the confidence to speak dominate, sortition is a scientifically robust process that means a citizen’s assembly is a truly randomly selected jury. Elected representatives and political employees would be excluded, thus even removing the spectre of a CCHQ or Labour regional plant trying to skew the outcome – no doubt to everyone’s relief.

All the evidence given from all sides of the debate, questions asked and deliberations undertaken would be made public. Participants would remain anonymous during the process itself, so that they can deliberate freely without being hunted down on Twitter.

MPs, not the panel, would retain the final say on whether to accept their priorities. Through reasoned and open format, this is a process that could stop the many bad habits Westminster can encourage – from hiding party political advantage behind virtue-signalling or kicking the can down the road for fear of opinion polls.

Ireland, Canada, Australia, Iceland, Poland and the Netherlands have all used citizens’ assemblies recently to adjudicate on a wide range of issues: from climate change, nuclear waste disposal and presidential term limits – and then inform the decisions that elected representatives made on all of these. Faced with the prospect of more of the same shambles for weeks on end in Westminster, we believe that Parliament should take a leaf out of their book. We are asking MPs to sign our amendment to the Prime Minister’s motion not in order to force a vote on whether to run one, but to show the Speaker that we wish for parliamentary time to consider these techniques.

Never has dēmokratia, the idea that the people hold power, been so tested in Britain. It was one form of direct democracy – that of referendums – that has led us to this point. Now is the time to ask if another – sortition and a citizens assembly- can offer lessons that might lead us forward. Aeschines argued the value of open debate and deliberation was that “truth is strong enough to overcome all human sophistries.” The truth is if we want to restore democracy in the minds of the people, we have to look not just how we deal with Brexit but how we deal with the British public.

Nick Boles: Like all revolutionaries, once-reasonable Brexiteers slide towards ever greater radicalism

Where Farage, Johnson and Paterson once praised the Norway option, it is now denounced as apostasy.

Nick Boles is a former Planning Minister and Education Minister, and is MP for Grantham and Stamford.

Let’s play a game. Where are they talking about, and why do they like it?

The first clue comes from Nigel:

“They’re rich, they top the world’s happiness index, they’re allowed to catch their own fish… They don’t pay their money to Brussels… We’re told (they) have to accept all the rules. Oh no they don’t.. They retain the right to veto…”

Boris is up next:

“If we got it right, we could negotiate a generous exit, securing EFTA style access to the Common Market.”

The final clue is offered by Owen:

“This brings us to the only realist option, which is to stay within the EEA Agreement. The EEA is tailor made for this purpose and can be adopted by joining EFTA first.”

What country were Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Owen Paterson talking about? The sovereign kingdom of Norway, of course. And what were they so envious of? Norway’s position outside the European Union but inside the common market of the European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association.

So when did it become apostasy for Brexiteers to argue that on leaving the EU we should move to a relationship a bit like Norway’s? Why do Brexiteers feel they have to attack Common Market 2.0, when for so long they saw it as a promised land, flowing with milk and honey? (Or maybe aquavit and herring.)

The answer is to be found in the pages of A Place of Greater Safety, a novel about the French Revolution by Hilary Mantel. As the revolution unfolds, the ambitions of its original architects no longer satisfy the younger firebrands. They demand ever greater radicalism and condemn those who advocate compromise to the tumbrils and the tricoteuses.

Yesterday Norway Plus was denounced on these pages by my friend Henry Newman, an eager Brexiteer keen to burnish his revolutionary credentials. It is tantamount to non-voting membership of the EU, he claimed. The reality is quite different. Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein exist entirely outside the EU’s common policies on agriculture, fisheries, justice, home affairs, foreign policy and defence. If we joined them in the EEA, EU law would no longer have ‘direct effect’ and new rules would only apply once Parliament had agreed to incorporate them into British law.

Both Norway and Iceland have refused to implement a whole raft of new Single Market rules over the years: by 2011 Norway had obtained derogations from 55 legal acts and Iceland from 349. The basic rule in the EEA is this: if you really don’t like it, just say “Nei!”

Our contemporary Saint-Just then argued that a Norway Plus relationship isn’t really ‘off the shelf’ – and might be quite tricky to negotiate. But he ignored the fact that the UK is already a signatory of the EEA treaty and has a clear right under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties to retain the benefits of our membership even after we leave the EU. The UK was also a founder member of EFTA and there is no reason to believe that we could not negotiate our accession to this fine organisation (including a temporary derogation from its free trade agreements) by the end of the transition in December 2020. At that point, our future relationship would commence, governed by tried and tested institutions like the EFTA Court, the Surveillance Authority and the EEA Joint Committee, and the Irish backstop would fall away without ever having needed to be activated.

Finally, he warned that renegotiating the Political Declaration to specify a future relationship based on Common Market 2.0 would make us vulnerable to further demands from Brussels. I have news for our young Jacobin. In any version of Brexit we will be subject to further demands from Brussels. Nowhere more so than in the Prime Minister’s current deal, where our desire to escape from the backstop before the 2022 election will turn us into a sitting duck for every EU President and Prime Minister who wants to score an easy win for voters back home.

Membership of Common Market 2.0 is a compromise. Like all compromises, it has upsides and downsides. On free movement and an independent trade policy, it will give us less control than many hoped for, and more slowly than I would ideally like. But, as Nigel, Boris, and Owen once recognised, it also offers us a comfortable halfway house – outside the EU’s political empire-building and inside the common market that the British people voted to join in 1972 and that a previous Conservative government entrenched through the Single Market in 1992.  If the Common Market was good enough for Margaret Thatcher, its modern equivalent is good enough for me – and should be good enough for all who call themselves Conservative.

Daniel Hannan: What is driving this chaos? I’ll tell you. The EU is determined to punish us.

In English, Barnier said: “I’ll have done my job if, in the end, the deal is so tough on the British that they’d prefer to stay in the EU”.

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.

You want a one-sentence explanation for the chaos in our politics, the breakdown of our party system, the shenanigans at Westminster? OK, here it is. It’s important, so I’ll put it in the original French first.

“J’aurais réussi ma mission si, à la fin, le deal est tellement dur pour les Britanniques qu’ils préféront rester dans l’Union.”

In English: “I’ll have done my job if, in the end, the deal is so tough on the British that they’d prefer to stay in the EU”.

The speaker, as you have probably guessed, is Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. He is reported in the French current affairs weekly Le Point as having spoken those words to EU leaders in 2016. The article adds that most of the leaders shared his view, as well as that of Jean-Claude Juncker, who said that Brexit must be a form of “punishment” for deserters.

There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the quotation. It accords with everything the EU has said and done since the referendum result was announced. Brussels negotiators have dragged their feet over the smallest things, while all the time publicly telling us that “the clock is ticking”. They have made a series of demands that they know to be outrageous, and that they would never dream of making of any other country, including a period of non-voting membership, the regulatory annexation of Northern Ireland and EU control of our trade policy after we leave. As Donald Tusk put it, quite overtly, in the aftermath of Parliament’s rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement last week, “If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?” Got that? The British people may have voted to leave, but we have made all the alternatives so unappealing that they’ll simply have to back down.

The normal British reaction to such blackmail would be to bridle at the threat and dig in in defence of democracy. In a healthy polity, even those who had voted Remain would be appalled by the bullying tone, and would rally around a policy that honoured the referendum result.

But our polity is far from healthy at present. In the debilitating culture war that followed the referendum, plenty of British politicians and commentators were determined to side with Brussels, however unreasonable its demands. Although many Remainers accepted the referendum result in good faith, some Europhile peers, MPs and businessmen were determined to overturn it. They therefore lined up behind even the most preposterous EU positions, because they shared the goal of making Brexit so painful that Britain would drop the whole idea.

They didn’t put it that way, of course, at least not in public. Instead, they would typically say things like, “The EU has to follow its own rules, you can’t enjoy the privileges of the club without being a member, what else did you Eurosceptics expect?”

The notion that the EU is simply following its own rules is almost too silly to merit refutation. The EU rarely fusses about its rules (qv deficits, bailouts etc) and it certainly isn’t doing so here. It refused to offer either the close relationship that it has with Norway or Switzerland (the EU never asked them to join the customs union), or the simple trade deal that it has with Canada (it did not demand regulatory control of New Brunswick). Had any other country made the offer that Britain made at Salzburg last summer, namely to match EU environmental and labour laws, unilaterally adopt its standards on physical goods and pay for the privilege – Brussels officials would have snapped it up incredulously. But, of course, the aim was not to get the best deal for the 27. It was to come up with something “tellement dur pour les Britanniques qu’ils préféront rester dans l’Union.”

If you have any doubts, look at the deal that the UK struck with Switzerland last month. Known by officials as “mind the gap”, it ensures that relations between the two countries will not be prejudiced, even in a no-deal Brexit. Five sectoral accords, covering aviation, ground transport, free trade, financial services and citizens’ rights, will ensure continuity in all circumstances. That’s how straightforward things can be with goodwill on both sides.

Sadly, our negotiators never faced up to the fact that Brussels did not want a mutually beneficial deal. Eurocrats could hardly have been clearer. Theresa May kept saying she wanted the EU to succeed; her EU counterparts kept responding that they wanted Brexit to fail. And yet, absurdly, we pursued a strategy of being nice in the hope that our goodwill might be reciprocated. We agreed to the EU’s sequencing, we wrote a cheque with no trade deal in return, we accepted non-voting membership (the “implementation period”, though no one now pretends there will be anything to implement), we swallowed the backstop. In each case, the EU pocketed the concession without softening.

So what now? We have stupidly weakened our position over the past 30 months, but our least bad option is clear enough. We should scrap the backstop, propose an alternative legal guarantee against physical infrastructure at the Irish border, and ratify the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The EU might refuse to reciprocate, of course. It would be an odd decision – if the backstop is off the table, you’d think that agreeing the other bits, such as reciprocal citizens’ rights, would be uncontentious – but the Barnier doctrine may well require Brussels to inflict needless disruption on all sides rather than allow a cordial Brexit. If so, it would be final, irrefutable proof that the EU is uninterested in the welfare of its peoples, having elevated closer union to the status of a religious dogma. Could anyone, in those circumstances, doubt that we were right to leave?

No Deal can’t be “taken off the table”

The only way of ruling it out is to change the table itself: in other words, to abandon Brexit, or prepare to – as Remainers should admit.

“Is it not the case that four fifths of Members voted to trigger Article 50, and that in doing so, they consciously—or perhaps semi-consciously in some cases—accepted that no deal would be the default option if we did not leave with a deal? If hon. Members have now changed their mind, should they not be open about that and say that they now want a second referendum or to ditch Brexit altogether?”

ConservativeHome can’t improve on this lucid pointer, offered to the Commons yesterday by Nick Herbert, to why No Deal cannot be “taken off the table”.  Let’s follow the train of thought of those of those who deploy the phrase.  Were No Deal to be ruled out, it follows that the UK might remain in the EU, contrary to the referendum result, if no deal between the two negotiating parties can be agreed.

And it can only be ruled out by MPs voting to revoke the same Article – Article 50 – that they voted to deploy less than two years ago.  (It is sometimes claimed that the Government could unilaterally revoke the article, but this would be dubious legally and impracticable politically.)  Every single Conservative MP voted to move Article 50, bar Ken Clarke – yes, including Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry and all the rest of them.  So every Tory MP who votes for revocation, should the opportunity arise, will have to explain to their voters and Associations why they have changed their minds – in defiance, too, of the election manifesto on which they presumably stood.

You may counter that Herbert was only half-right – since not all those who want to take No Deal “off the table” want No Brexit.  Some, rather, want a different kind of Brexit to the one proposed in Theresa May’s deal – such as Norway Plus or Common Market 2.0 or whatever its supporters are calling it this morning.  Our columnist Henry Newman, writing on ConservativeHome today, says that the plan could “leave us as essentially as a non-voting member of the EU”.  Be that as it may, Norway Plus would none the less represent a form of Brexit – de jure if not de facto.  And it would be achieved via extension, not revocation.

But, if you think about it, extension would not actually take No Deal “off the table”.  It would merely set a new deadline for Brexit – and, therefore, leave open the possibility that Britain could still leave the EU with No Deal when it ends.  You may argue that the practical effect of extension would be to pave the way for revocation – and you might well be right: the proponents of Norway Plus, in the event of extension, risk losing out to the supporters of a Second Referendum.  None the less, the possibility of No Deal would still be there.  It would remain “on the table”.  Or, to put it another way, the table, like the proverbial can, would simply be kicked down the road.

Herbert concluded by asking his colleagues to agree that if they “want an orderly Brexit and to prevent no deal, is not the only course open to them to agree a deal?”  This now appears to be the direction that a big chunk of the European Research Group, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, is willing to take if (and it’s a very big if) meaningful change can be agreed to the Northern Ireland backstop.

At any rate, No Deal cannot be “taken off the table”.  As it was put recently, No Deal is the table – in other words, it’s a form of Brexit.  If MPs want to stop No Deal, they must take away the table they asked for – Brexit – and put another one its place: No Brexit.  They’re entitled to make the attempt, though such a move would dynamite what’s left of Theresa May’s negotiating strategy,and spit in the face of the verdict of the British people.   But can they please come clean about it?

Henry Newman: Norway Plus, Common Market 2.0 – call it whatever you like: it would essentially leave us a non-voting EU member

It amounts to wishful thinking, not a workable, sustainable answer. And it’s not as easy to implement as some of its advocates make out.

Henry Newman is Director of Open Europe.

A week after the biggest ever Parliamentary defeat, we are no closer to finding a way through on Brexit. Theresa May and her ministers have been meeting MPs from different factions. Yet the people I’ve spoken to in the room for those cross-party discussions say that few of those visiting 70 Whitehall showed interest in exploring compromises other than their own preferred solution. Some of those leaving the talks complained that they heard no new ideas from the Prime Minister, but that’s little surprise. We have been arguing about Brexit pretty much non-stop for three years.

There’s something odd about the current debate. Putting aside those at the extremes advocating No Deal or a second referendum, there seems to be a majority in the Commons in favour of a form of negotiated exit. However, there isn’t yet a majority for the Prime Minister’s deal. Most MPs in favour of a negotiated deal accept the need for some form of backstop (now a sine qua non for a deal), and also accept that major changes to the Withdrawal Agreement are unlikely. To put it another way: these MPs are (essentially) only arguing about the non-binding bits of the deal.

One category of MPs demanding a ‘Plan B’ are those advocating Norway Plus. But the truth is that Norway Plus is Plan A with a bow on top. It’s a plan which even its proponents admit is premised on accepting every binding part of Plan A. All that would change is a narrowing of the destination outlined in the Political Declaration to Norway Plus.

The Norway Plus plan has got through various evolutions, but the basic idea is to seek a long-term relationship with the EU which keeps the UK inside the Single Market (the Norway part) and the Customs Union (the plus bit). That would, proponents suggest, obviate the need for the backstop. Putting aside the fact that during the referendum leading campaigners, from Michael Gove and Boris Johnson to David Cameron and George Osborne, unequivocally ruled out the UK remaining in the Single Market, there are many issues with this plan.

First, it’s often suggested that Norway is an off-the-shelf model, ready to adopt. Actually, things aren’t so straightforward. There are two broad paths to Norway Plus. Both require negotiation. Either the UK would accede to the European Free Trade Area, while getting a derogation from EFTA’s free trade deals (which would be incompatible with an EU Customs Union), as well as agreeing a move to the EFTA ‘pillar’ of the EEA agreement. Or the alternative is to negotiate a new pillar of the EEA Agreement – a major change to a treaty with 30 state parties.

Second, negotiating a path to a version of Norway Plus would put the UK under huge pressure to agree further strictures, which would likely leave us with a far worse deal. Many in Brussels and member states are worried we are too big to be treated like Norway. They want tighter rules on services (especially financial services). Some want to keep us in the Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy. Others want tighter enforcement rules. We will probably be asked to pay more money than Norway does. What leverage would the UK have to resist these extra demands if we had signed the Withdrawal Agreement and committed to getting to ‘Norway Plus’? We would be over a negotiating barrel, trying to agree the required protocols or derogations as the clock ticked down and pluses kept being added. MPs can call for a ‘Common Market 2.0’ but that’s just a slogan – not something anyone has agreed with the EU or EEA.

Would Norway Plus be sustainable in the long-term? Probably not. A senior Elysee source told me he thought it was inevitable that the UK would either break such an agreement by pushing back on obligations, or cancel the deal by demanding a new arrangement. Why? Because Norway Plus would leave us extremely close to the EU, far closer than Theresa May’s deal. It could – depending on the number of pluses – leave us as essentially as a non-voting member of the EU, subject to wide ranging rule-taking.

An alternative path to a negotiated deal is put forward by the Labour Party. Last night ,Labour proposed an amendment demanding a vote on a permanent customs union with the EU and a “strong relationship with the single market”. There already is a customs union in Theresa May’s deal – it’s at the heart of the backstop and could only be replaced if both the EU and UK agree. So it’s unclear how exactly this differs from anything Labour could negotiate, although Labour claim their customs union would come with control over trade policy, something the EU won’t offer now. It’s also unclear how their relationship with the Single Market would work, but they accept it would be “underpinned by shared institutions and obligations” and would entail wide spectrum rule-taking, or “dynamic alignment on rights and standards.” So far, of course, the EU have said you’re either in the Single Market or you’re not. Partial dynamic alignment was proposed by the UK at Chequers and has again so far been rejected by the EU.

Over the next few days, Parliament will seek to wrest control of Brexit. But although some claim that the facts around leaving the EU have become clearer since the referendum, a quick glance at Hansard for the last couple of weeks reveals a serious amount of magical thinking and unicorn-chasing from MPs on all sides. A series of indicative votes won’t necessarily bring greater clarity but would risk a majority coalescing around a policy which is simply un-negotiable.

Ultimately, there are still only three basic choices: No Deal, No Brexit, or a version of the Prime Minister’s deal. Yet MPs have passionately dug in, as they cling to their ideal options. The deal on the table is far from flawless, and needs some improvement. But it represents the safest path to delivering Brexit and already leaves a spectrum of future possibilities open – from a close Norway Plus relationship to a far looser arrangement.

Following last night’s Labour amendment there will also soon be a vote on a second referendum. As the risk of losing Brexit entirely grows, will more Eurosceptic MPs come around to Nadine Dorries’s view that the deal just needs to be got over the line? Or to the argument that Jacob Rees-Mogg repeated over the weekend that the deal, though flawed, is better than Remain? Until they do, there’s little possibility of securing Brexit, and a high chance that any exit is on far softer terms than most Conservatives would desire.

Next, watch pro-Remain and pro-Soft Brexit Ministers push for the postponement of Brexit

Today, May is swinging towards her Party’s leavers. The logic of the Chancellor’s position, and that of his allies, is to block her – or try to.

This site’s reading of the Prime Minister’s Commons’ reaction to the record defeat of her deal was that she would none the less stick with it.  Our assessment of her intentions suggested that cross-party talks would lead nowhere, since opposition MPs would insist on Customs Union membership.  More broadly, they would push her further towards a Norway-type solution.  Either of these ideas would divide her own Party further – and the backbench rebellion against her deal is already the biggest Tory revolt of modern times.  Furthermore, roughly half the Cabinet is opposed to a softer Brexit.  More than half of Tory MPs take the same view.  So will most Party members.  She is now formally safe from a confidence vote for the best part of a year, but other ways of ousting a Conservative leader can be found in a crisis.

In these circumstances, May was always likely to cling to her Party rather than go cross-party – especially since support from Labour MPs is bound to be even less reliable than backing from the European Research Group.  In the last resort, dealing with Jacob Rees-Mogg is easier than dealing with Yvette Cooper.

We aren’t right about everything – far from it – but appear to have been correct in this case.  Cabinet members told ConservativeHome over the weekend that a core weakness in the Prime Minister’s position is that the EU doesn’t know what the Commons wants, and believes that she can’t persuade the House to back her in any event.  So she must now demonstrate that it will support the deal if the EU will agree to in exchange to amend the backstop.  That means relying on Tory MPs, the ERG included, to carry a vote to that effect, with the aid of the DUP.  There is excitable talk of a new Anglo-Irish treaty being proposed, based perhaps on the David Davis “reserve parachute” proposal, or something like it.

We suspect that May is more likely to propose a version of the so-called Murrison amendment, which proposed slapping an expiry date on the backstop.  Readers will remember that the Speaker refused to select it for debate last week.  The ERG is in emollient mood at present, and both it and other Brexiteers might swallow this plan. Whether the EU would do so too is rather more debatable, to put it mildly.

The Prime Minister’s scheme therefore shortens the odds on No Deal – since it revives her game of chicken, eats up more Parliamentary time, and leaves No Deal as the default setting as March 29 approaches.  Philip Hammond and the rest of the Cabinet Remainers and Soft Brexiteers know this.  The next move, as the Prime Minister prepares to make a Commons statement today, is theirs.  First, they must brief that it will fail and that cross-party talks must be revived, perhaps under the Lidington-Gove-Smith troika.  This is already starting to happen.  Second, there will doubtless be further talk of mass Ministerial resignations, featuring Richard Harrington and others.  Third, they will brief in favour of free votes on the battery of pro-Customs Union, Norway Plus and Second Referendum proposals due next week.

Finally, they will throw their weight behind the extension of Article 50.  Hammond hinted at precisely such a development during the phone conversation between senior Ministers and big business leaders last week.  This is where the Wesminster Village conversation will go as the mood in parts of the rest of the country hardens in favour of No Deal.

The minor parties in the Commons mostly back extension already.  So do the band of Soft Brexit Labour MPs among whom Yvette Cooper is prominent.  So do Dominic Grieve and Nick Boles and assorted other Conservative Second Referendum or Norway Plus or Customs Union supporters.  They can rely on the Speaker’s aid.  Jeremy Corbyn will be very reluctant to nod assent.  Backing extension would mean legitimising claims of Brexit betrayal in Labour’s midlands and northern heartlands.  But it is hard to see where else he can go.  He is opposed to a second referendum.  Much of his own party outside London is resistant to it.  All his eggs are in the basket of Labour’s fantasy renegotiation.  What little credibility it has left will soon vanish if he does not back a later deadline for it.  That requires supporting extension.

Which leaves the Prime Minister.  The logic of her chicken game requires a firm deadline – in order to bluff MPs into supporting her deal rather than risk No Deal or No Brexit.  This explains why she has been resistant to extension when the idea has been pushed by Lidington and others.

None the less, in the last resort, a bid for extension without a clear outcome in sight would represent kicking the can down the road again, or trying to.  And we all know that May isn’t averse to doing that.  Menaced by Remainer resignations and a No Deal deadline, it is conceivable that she would throw what weight she has left behind extension.  If a Grieve or Cooper or other Bill is successful, she could argue there is no alternative.

But let the fledgling extension consensus be warned: to put back the date of Article 50 would revive both the hard right, in the democratic form of Nigel Farage, and perhaps the far right, in its various undemocratic guises.  All would claim that extension was but a milestone on the road to revocation.  And they might well be recorrect.

Today, the Prime Minister is swinging towards her Party’s Leavers.  Tomorrow, it could be back towards its Remainers.  From one perspective, it is all a great, mad, glorious game – chess crossed with chicken crossed with the wild card of the Speaker, as we’ve said before.  It would be fabulous entertainment were most of the country not heartily sick of it – and the honouring of the biggest electoral verdict in our country’s history at stake.

As matters stand, almost half of Party members line up behind No Deal, our snap survey finds

The closer the prospect of it gets, the more some people warm to it – as the BBC’s Question Time suggested this week.

On the BBC’s Question Time edition this week, the audience cheered for No Deal.  The closer the prospect of it gets, the more some people warm to it.

This was also our explanation when we last asked a broadly comparable question to this one, and found that No Deal was the most popular option with 44 per cent support.

That’s now up slightly to 48 per cent, while backing for a Canada option is down marginally from 27 per cent to 24 per cent.  In short, there’s not much change since last year in relation to any of the options.

Esther McVey: Now that May’s Brexit deal has been voted down, we need to win back trust. Here’s how.

We also need to examine a ‘no deal transition period’ – i.e: a payment for a period of time to enable both the UK and the EU to adjust to the changes ahead of us.

Esther McVey is a former Work and Pensions Secretary, and is MP for Tatton.

The fallout from Parliament’s rejection of the Meaningful Vote on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal continues, but what is clear is that something has gone very wrong in our politics.  As most of this this site’s readers know, I resigned from the Cabinet over the deal. And in my resignation letter, I wrote about the danger of trust being lost. As a political class, we have stretched public trust to the limit in recent years but, if we now fail to honour the biggest democratic vote in our history, we risk severing trust entirely.

Parliament is awash with competing views about what needs to happen next. What is most startling is how most of these views have nothing to do with implementing the will of the people, and expose just how out of touch that political class is.

For a majority of Labour MPs, in particular ,this is about overturning a result they have never accepted. They believe people were too stupid to make an informed decision about how the EU affects their lives. Amidst the metropolitan bubble, they have convinced themselves that people across the country are clamouring to listen to their betters, and do as they are told in a second referendum. This view is deluded – and if they ever managed to block Brexit it could genuinely break politics as we know it.

However, it is the Conservatives who are most in danger of severing trust with the voters and suffering the consequences. We are the party in office – the party that introduced the referendum, and the party whose members predominantly support sovereignty and exiting the EU. We should take no false comfort in whatever polls might predict the election result to be when all trust has been lost. Not even the economic destruction threatened by the Marxist alternative might be enough to save us.

The Withdrawal Agreement falls short of delivering what people voted for, but it is the compromises doing the rounds that have the potential really to pour petrol on the fire. The current deal would leave us tied to the EU and their its indefinitely. So how is an alternative such as Norway Plus or Common Market 2.0, which look even less like Brexit, a potential solution? Not to mention that delivering either could only be achieved with the collusion of Labour MPs. What is worse is that at the heart of these developments is not what is best for the country, or genuinely delivering on the votes of 17.4 million people, but rather getting politicians out of a muddle of their own creation.

After the resounding rejection of the deal, the Prime Minister now needs to go back to the EU to get a better deal – fundamentally, to ensure the removal of the backstop, and that the payment of the £39 billion gains us a future trade deal along the lines outlined by Donald Tusk back in March 2018, sometimes referred to as Canada Plus.

At the same time, so that the EU can be in no doubt of our Government’s will to deliver for the people, and for our Party to live up to our general election manifesto commitment that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, we need to show how we would spend that £39 billion at home if we left without a deal; reveal to the public all the no deal preparations already done by the civil service; explain what World Trade Organisations rules are, and set out the side deals we need to secure.

We also need to look at a ‘no deal transition period’ just like the kind we had for a ‘deal transition period’ –  i.e: a payment for a period of time whereby we and the EU adjust to the changes ahead of us. This would continue as already planned until Dec 2020. We are good neighbours, and seek to remain as such.

What we can’t do is shackle ourselves to a bad deal simply to get Brexit over and done with because politicians think the effort of coming out of the EU is too much hard work. Nor can we keep the public in the dark about our options post-29th March, simply because politicians don’t want change. Change is inevitable – and preparations and planning are the solution. For the idea that somehow things will move on and people will forget what they voted for in the biggest referendum of a life time is fantasy. Let me assure my colleagues that if we break the public trust on something as big as this we will not be easily forgiven.