Iain Dale: It’s going to be a White Christmas – because there are snowflakes, snowflakes everywhere.

Plus: Tory MPs, the world’s most duplicitous electorate. But a certain long-serving woman Labour MP is sending Christmas cards to them all…

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

I was surprised by the fact that 117 MPs voted against the Prime Minister on Wednesday – and can’t pretend otherwise. I had thought that the total would be between 80 and 100.

What fascinates me is that there were no ministerial resignations in the runup to the vote. No one will ever convince me that all 95 Government ministers and the various PPSs voted for Theresa May to stay on. I can think of at least two Cabinet members who I would lay money voted against her. Surely any minister who did that would be honour bound to resign?

Apparently not. No wonder the Parliamentary Conservative Party is known as the world’s most duplicitous electorate.

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I interviewed Jacob Rees-Mogg three quarters of an hour after Graham Brady had announced the result of the ballot. I was rather taken aback by his responses to my various questions. He wasn’t exactly bad-tempered, but he certainly came across as a bad loser. When I put that to him, he was having none of it – but continued to call on the Prime Minister to resign. It was quite extraordinary.

I have sympathy with many of his views on the subject of the Withdrawal Agreement, but there is no future in being an ‘irreconcilable’. Andrew Bridgen gave a similar response, and it is clear that loyalty is a word which has become alien to both of them. It is supposed to be the Tories’ secret weapon. You could have fooled me.

– – – – – – – – – –

Nicky Morgan hit the nail on the head when she said on Peston: “[May] has to realize there are some on our backbenches who are irreconcilable to either having any deal or having anything like the deal that’s on the table.” It’s difficult to see how the Prime Minister can convince the 71 MPs who declared that they would not support her in the meaningful vote that was planned this week to change their minds.  Particularly after her rebuff in Brussels, as reported this morning.

She could possibly convince some of them but it still wouldn’t get it over the line. So what are the alternatives? Norway Plus? A second referendum? It ought to be leaving with what I like to call a ‘clean break’ rather than ‘no deal’, but Parliament will do its level best to frustrate it, even though it passed the legislation which guarantees it.

Quite what happens next is anyone’s guess. Unfortunately, I can see Article 50 being postponed, but all that would achieve is to kick the can down the road again. But the Prime Minister has become a master of that particular art.

– – – – – – – – – –

It is the season of goodwill to all men. And women. And Conservative MPs. Harriet Harman has certainly contracted the Christmas spirit very early. She’s so full of goodwill to Conservatives that she’s sending them Christmas cards. All of them apparently. What can it mean?

Well, perhaps that this long-serving Labour MP wishes to curry favour with Conservative MPs should there be an election to succeed John Bercow as Speaker of the Commons.

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About a month ago, someone suggested to me that I should send out a weekly email newsletter to people who were interested in my various activities. Hmmm, I thought, would anyone be interested? I then signed up to Mailchimp and have now sent out a newsletter on a Sunday evening for the last three weeks. People seem to like it, so if you’d like to sign up just visit http://www.iaindale.com and sign up via the pop-up. You can unsubscribe at any time if I bore you to tears.

– – – – – – – – – –

A friend of mine is a comedian, originally from Russia. And there aren’t many of them to the pound. Konstantin Kisin is his name. Last week, he pulled out of doing a comedy gig at a university after being asked to sign a ‘behavioural contract’. This ‘contract forbade him from telling jokes which could be considered anti-religion, anti-atheist, homophobic, transphobic, bi-phobic, misogynistic … and so the list went on. This is apparently increasingly happening on university campuses, supposedly the bastions of free speech.

– – – – – – – – – –

On a similar but unrelated note, I was waiting for a train at Tonbridge station on Wednesday when I overheard a teacher talking to five girl pupils about their trip to the Commons. Their visit was to support Amnesty International’s human rights day. They were meeting John Bercow and various MPs together with their local MP, Tom Tugendhat.

I suggested to the teacher that while they were there she should take the girls across the road to College Green where they could see the huge media presence covering the possible fall of a Prime Minister. Her response astounded me: “Yes, I was thinking of doing that, but I don’t want to cause them any stress.” Jesus wept. Is that what we’ve really come to – where the first thought of a teacher when considering doing anything is will it cause stress? No wonder we’re rearing a generation of politically correct snowflakes.

Stalemate

May wins – but not by enough to break free from her internal opponents. Too strong to fall and too weak to win, she is, if anything, more exposed to them than before.

The editors of this site spare no effort on our readers’ behalf.

Why, we have even offered you exact figures from today’s confidence ballot.  200 votes for Theresa May and 117 against her, we wrote this afternoon, would be a “Problematic Win”: “once the opposition to May climbs above a third of the electorate, it becomes harder to assert legitimacy”.

So it has proved.  A third of the 317 Conservative MPs is 106.  So 117 is a bit north of that – 37 per cent, close on two of them in five.  Furthermore, one must take the payroll vote into account.  Either 62 per cent of the non-payroll voted against her, an indisputable majority.  Or one must let that percentage fall…but raise the proportion of the payroll that opposed her, pari passu.

All in all, this result isn’t bad enough to spur her Cabinet into removing her, as Margaret Thatcher’s did to the then Prime Minister in 1990 (Were its members less timid and had the Tories a majority, matters might be different, especially were the Government not embroiled in the most important negotiation of modern times.)

But nor is it good enough to free Theresa May from the ERG, their allies and the DUP – or from the Conservative Norwegians and second referendum campaigners, for that matter.  And since her vote is a bit lower than expected and the opposition a bit higher, the ERG whips can take a modest bow.  Having apparently predicted the result to within three votes, they have salvaged their reputation for numeracy.

The ERG claims 80 members – a total about which we’ve always been a bit sniffy.  But the lower the number really is, the more support they’ve put on today – in the wake of a rushed ballot, the timing of which caught the group on the hop; of a co-ordinated Twitter blitz on the Prime Minister’s behalf, and of a carefully-crafted appearance by her outside Downing Street, in which she pushed claims about the contest that were, shall we say, debatable.

You will say reply May scooped 63 per cent of the vote, and that her leadership can’t now be challenged for a year.  Quite so.  However, those facts simply open up a new range of problems.  She will have wanted to win by a margin large enough to justify bringing her Brexit deal back to the Commons.  It is very hard to see how this drab result can be treated as a springboard to that effect.

But if it can’t be used to threaten the Commons with No Deal (as in: “my deal or no deal”), it can scarcely be used to threaten the Commons with no Brexit either (“my deal or no Brexit”).  These numbers don’t give her a platform solid enough on which to pivot to postponing Article 50, or a Second Referendum, or Norway Plus.

The Queen is the most powerful piece on the chess board.  And the Prime Minister is the most powerful member of the Government, usual rules permitting.  May retains the title, but cannot move except by putting her side into check.  Her internal opponents can’t no confidence her for the next twelve months.  But she can’t win votes or get legislation through without their help.

Across the board this evening, she and the pawns and knights of the ERG glower and frown at each other.  We have stalemate.

And all the while, Labour watch and wait for the day when they can take on the Queen and her allies themselves – if she’s still in place then.

WATCH: North Korean ovation from Conservative MPs as Brady announces that May has won

The Chairman of the 1922 Executive Committee then reads out the figures. And someone says: “oooh”.

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.

Iain Dale: On Newsnight, I erect my Tower of Power

And: For May, there should be no way back from losing. My Tory leadership straw poll. Cox, a man of substance and integrity. Plus, Tower of Power extra: Dick for Iain.

Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

We live in momentous times. When I write this column next Friday, Theresa May could not longer be prime minister.

Wednesday next week will be a more interesting day than Tuesday. No-one now expects the Government to win the Brexit deal vote, and the only debate about what will happen is about is the size of the defeat. If the size of the majority against the Government motion is more than 100, it is very difficult to see how the Prime Minister, in all conscience, could stay on. There’s no way back from that, I’d have thought.

But we don’t live in normal times, and we know all about the Prime Minister’s stickability. The Opposition, whatever the size of their win, will no doubt call a vote of confidence. They’d be mad not to. The Government will win it, surely, but it could be a pyrrhic victory.

It must be likely that by midday on Wednesday, Graham Brady will have received the 48 letters needed to force a vote of confidence in May’s leadership. Again, she may well win that vote, mainly because of the absence of a clear alternative leader, but the size of the victory would be crucial. Could she really carry on if more than 100 Tory MPs voted against her? And they surely would.

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Twitter polls aren’t exactly scientific, and are just a bit of fun, but they do attract large numbers of people to vote.

I put up a poll on Wednesday offering people the choice of Boris Johnson, David Davis, Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt as next leader of the Conservative Party. In Twitter polls, you can only offer four choices.

Within 15 hours, nearly 10,000 people had voted. The result? Johnson got 41 per cent, Davis 25 per cent, Javid 21 per cent and Hunt 13 per cent. Make of that what you will.

The important electorate would of course initially be Tory MPs. My guess is that Johnson would not be in the top two. His performance in the Brexit debate this week will hardly have improved his chances.

– – – – – – – – – –

Another senior Conservative whose fortunes have fluctuated this week is the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox. His bombastic performance at the Dispatch Box on Tuesday led many to speculate that he could be a dark horse candidate for the leadership. And you could see why.

But less than 24 hours later his body language on the front bench was somewhat different, as Andrea Leadsom announced that the government would heed the vote of MPs and publish the Attorney’s legal advice on the Northern Ireland backstop. He looked a broken man and I wondered whether he might be thinking about resigning.

I’m sure he considered it, but he remains in post. And a jolly good thing too. I am sure he has a massive contribution to make to Conservative politics, and despite what happened this week he is still seen as a man of substance and integrity.

– – – – – – – – –

“Hello, it’s Newsnight here – are you free to come on tonight and take part in a panel with a difference?” said the producer. “What’s the difference,” I asked nervously. “Well, we’ve got a Tower of Power and we want you to explain who the most important players are in what’s going on at the moment by pinning them from top to bottom on our model of Big Ben.” “Oh well,” I thought, “at least it’s not a whiteboard”.

So Paul Mason, Bronwen Maddox from the Institute of Government and I did our best to explain to the audience why we thought MPs were now more important in the process than the Cabinet. They had, to coin a phrase, taken back control. Yes, it was a gimmick, but it proved a very good way of explaining with a visual aid, something which is actually quite complicated. I suspect we might be seeing more of the Tower of Power…

– – – – – – – – –

Each day I spend several hours at LBC preparing for my radio show with my two producers. On Tuesday, I got a bit of a surprise when I was flicking through the list of clips and interviews on our computer system: I saw a clip called ‘DICK FOR IAIN’.

“Well this is going to be a different sort of show,” I thought to myself. I was somewhat disappointed to find that it was a clip of the Cressida Dick talking to Nick Ferrari. Oh well.

Drained of authority? Yes. Rudderless? Certainly. Humiliated? Absolutely. But May’s very weakness is becoming a strange strength.

She looks increasingly like the captive of pro-Remain cross-party MPs working together against the pro-Leave referendum mandate.

  • Good news for Julian Smith.  The essence of the Grieve amendment is that it opens up a path to No Brexit.  Very well, the Chief Whip may be tempted to think.  If pro-Leave MPs believe they have a choice between a Grieve-led No Brexit and Theresa May’s flawed deal, they will vote for the latter next Tuesday.  Conspiracy theorists yesterday evening were suggesting that this reasoning explains why loyalists such as Damian Green and Oliver Letwin voted against the Government and for the amendment.
  • But hang on. There’s bad news for Smith.  Steve Baker and the ERG leadership are having none of it.  Let Grieve table and pass as many motions as he likes, they were arguing yesterday: the Government cannot be mandated by motions.  The Prime Minister can and should tell the Remainers to bog off if necessary.  All she and her government need to do is to hang on until March 29, and Brexit will be duly delivered.  So the ERG and other Brexiteers will vote against the Government next week. Smith’s cunning plan won’t work.
  • And there is worse news for him, too.  Perhaps the Grieve amendment will have an effect at the margins on some Leavers.  But Remainers now have an incentive to vote against May next week: to prod the Commons towards No Brexit.  And the ERG and other Leavers have an incentive, too: to keep the pressure up on May for No Deal, if necessary.  So Smith’s clever plan is in danger not only of not working; it threatens to boomerang back to smack the Whips Office in the jaw.
  • But wait. Yes, there’s good news for the Chief Whip after all.  Even if they band together to vote down May’s deal next Tuesday, the aims of the Remainers and Leavers will be different.  In a nutshell, the drift of the Prime Minister’s Brexit policy, over two and a half years, has been from a Nick Timothy-crafted position with clear red lines…through Chequers and the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson…to the breaking of those lines over Northern Ireland, transition and the backstop.  The policy is softer than it was.
  • So it is now clearly in the interests of the Remainers to keep May in place.  The lesson that Grieve and company will draw from yesterday is: keep pushing.  Working with Labour and other opposition parties, they can use the pro-Remain sympathies of the Commons to their advantage.  A change of leader would probably mean a new Brexiteer Prime Minister, such as Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab or even David Davis, armed with a mandate to defy No Brexit and deliver No Deal. Why would they want that?
  • And it is not clear that Leavers on the Conservative benches have the numbers to depose her.  Jacob Rees-Mogg and Baker couldn’t find them last month.  It might be that, in the wake of a defeat for May next week, Brexiteers decide that enough is enough, and that elusive total of 48 letters is reached then – or even before.  None the less, it isn’t evident that they have enough support to topple May in a confidence ballot (though Mark Harper’s defection from the loyalist ranks may be a sign that her days are numbered).
  • The swing voters are, as ever, the J.Alfred Prufrocks of the backbenches.  According to our count, 181 Conservative MPs voted Remain in 2016, and 129 voted Leave.  Obviously, the Commons has changed a bit since then.  But the average Tory MP is a soft Remainer or moderate Leaver – perhaps with an eye to the Norway option being pushed by some of Grieve’s supporters yesterday.  (Indeed, his amendment can be seen as a pincer movement on the Prime Minister by a makeshift alliance of Remainers and Norwegians.)
  • What stirs more fear in those backbenchers – No Deal or No Brexit? Do they dread most the undoubted difficulties of No Deal, leading to a collapse of confidence in the Government, the loss of their seats, and a Corbyn-led Government – perhaps sooner rather than later?  Or do they fear No Brexit more – and the revenge of a turbulent electorate, cheated of the prize it voted for, which sends the Conservatives the way of the old Christian Democrats in Italy?  There is no away of knowing.
  • At any rate, May’s very weakness is now a strange strength.  Voted guilty of contempt of Parliament; beaten three times yesterday (the first time a government has been so for some 40 years); staring down the barrel of defeat next week, she now leads the weakest government in modern times.  But this very vulnerability is becoming a strange source of strength – or survival, at any rate.  She hangs on because her party can’t agree on a replacement.  Because while it doesn’t like her plan, it can’t settle on an alternative.
  • Could the Cabinet oust her next week?  Perhaps.  But, as recent events have shown, a Prime Minister can impose a plan on a Cabinet that it doesn’t much care for.  She controls its meetings, proceedings and minutes.  Each of her Ministers has their own ambitions and agendas: they do not find it easy to act in concert.  She has ridden out the resignations of two Brexit Secretaries, a Foreign Secretary and a Work and Pensions Ministers.  And called the bluff of the pizza gang of five Cabinet Leavers.
  • Might she resign if beaten next week?  Maybe.  But if she quits as Party leader, she will open the door to a Brexiteer as her replacement.  And it is not clear whether she could simply resign as Prime Minister.  That would put the Queen in a difficult position.  Would the latter then send for, say, David Lidington, or for Jeremy Corbyn and, in either case, on what basis?  Any such move would be resisted by the Palace.  In any event, Prime Ministers tend not to resign.  The last to go willingly was Harold Wilson, and he was ill.
  • So can May go on…and on…and on? Almost certainly not.  Leavers are losing patience with her.  Remainers are using her.  Any dash from cover risks her swift removal – whatever tactical alliances may form to prop her up temporarily.  A tilt to Norway, No Brexit or No Deal risks stirring up those parts of the Parliamentary Party opposed to all three.  The only glimmer of good news comes from her Party’s right – and the departure of Nigel Farage from a UKIP lurching wildly to the fringes (though she has lost the DUP).
  • Finally, ponder the shape of events.  Voters were narrowly for Leave in 2016.  The Commons is still for Remain: perhaps a sixth of it is for Brexit by conviction rather than calculation.  And the long and short of it is that the more time passes – and the deeper the Government’s crisis becomes – the less MPs pay even lip-service to the biggest event in our electoral history.  The tide in Parliament is for Remain.  It moves slowly – even glacially.  But it is carrying the Prime Minister with it.

Our survey. Almost seven in ten Party members say that Conservative MPs should vote against May’s deal.

And roughly a third believe that they should back it. That’s a platform for the Prime Minister to build on – but she has little time left in which to change hearts and minds.

Last month, we looked back to our final members’ panel survey before the EU referendum, which showed 71 per cent of respondents either definitely for Leave or leaning to Leave, and 27 per cent either definitely for Remain or leaning to Remain.

We cite it again to remind readers how consistent the survey is.  It would be simplistic to claim that the Leave-backing 71 per cent of 2016 represents more or less exactly the same people as the 72 per cent who now oppose the Prime Minister’s draft Brexit deal – and that the same applies to the Remain-backing 27 per cent of 2016 and the deal-supporting 25 per cent now. None the less, there will undoubtedly be a very significant cross-over.

In short, our headline finding is that over seven out ten Party members believe that Conservative MPs should oppose the deal.  There can be little doubt that most Leavers among them are against it and most Remainers among them for it.

That said, Downing Street has a platform to build on. The other survey response in this section finds that almost a third of respondents believe that Tory MPs should back her in the lobbies.  The total doing so is 30 per cent.  So five per cent of our respondents don’t back the deal…but believe none the less that Conservative MPs should vote for it.  68 per cent think that they should vote against it.

So it is way to go for Theresa May.  With less than a fortnight left until the “meaningful vote”, she has little time to change hearts and minds. All in all, the survey finds no evidence for rising support for the deal from Party members.  And suggests that less than a third of them back her push to get Conservative MPs onside.

The number of Tory MPs who oppose the deal stands at 71. Lamont, Freeman are the latest to say they won’t back it.

Plus a further 41 probable or possible opponents. But such calculations are an art, not a science – and the totals will change.

All week, different estimates have been flying back and forth of the scale of opposition to the Prime Minister’s proposed Brexit deal. As is always the case, the pressure of bigger-is-better pushes the numbers ever higher, and encourages those doing the calculating to become ever more relaxed about their criteria.

As Paul warned yesterday, such endless inflation is also convenient for Downing Street, in that it skews the question of expectation management: ‘Ponder the possible consequences of an expectation that the Government will lose the meaningful vote by 200…and it actually losing it by, say, 50.  Disaster would suddenly be spun as triumph.’

In order to prioritise accuracy above excitability, ConservativeHome has been more, well, conservative when calculating our own list.

The tests we have applied are somewhat stricter. Simply supporting Stand Up 4 Brexit, or criticising Chequers, or even writing a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister, is not in itself enough to be taken as proof of opposition to the deal. Some very pro-Brexit and very anti-Chequers MPs will likely vote with the Government when the ‘meaningful vote’ comes.

For our estimate, we have identified three categories of MP.

The first contains those who oppose the deal. They have said or written, publicly, that they will vote against it, or at minimum that they will not support it. We count 71 MPs in this group.

The second contains those who probably oppose the deal. They are on record opposing it to some degree, but mostly with an attendant caveat which implies they might perhaps be won round. Some have committed to oppose the deal “as it stands” or “in its current form”, or specified an amendment that would assuage their concerns. Also included are several MPs whose response to the deal has been to say they want a second referendum as a direct and preferable alternative, but not unambiguously commit themselves to opposing it. We count 32 MPs in this group.

The third contains those who maybe oppose the deal. These are MPs who have either specified concerns and said they are awaiting answers, or whose inclination appears to be to want to follow the whip but describe it as some variation of “difficult to support”. We count a further 9 MPs in this group.

All the names in each group are listed at the foot of this post.

As those definitions imply, this is an art more than a science. The variation in MPs’ turns of phrase alone makes it tricky to apply hard and fast rules – some prefer the courtly language of “I cannot support this” when they mean “I hate it with a passion and would vote against it a thousand times given the chance”, while others are freely vituperative in their condemnation but less courageous in the voting lobbies.

Some MPs may therefore pop up after this list is published to clarify their precise position as firmer or softer than we have been able to judge from their public statements; I particularly anticipate several of those listed in the grey zone of “probably oppose” due to vague phrasing might well wish to identify themselves as certain opponents.

Indeed, we encourage clarifications of any sort – more information is always a useful thing.

Others who are thus far undecided may yet decide to come out as opponents of the deal, while some who are currently opposed might be won round by the Government’s arguments, or by amendments that could yet be conceded.

In other words, this list will change between now and the vote. Indeed, I would be amazed if it does not. But at this point it is our best estimate.

Oppose the deal (71 MPs)

  • Lucy Allan
  • Heidi Allen
  • Sir David Amess
  • Steve Baker
  • Crispin Blunt
  • Peter Bone
  • Ben Bradley
  • Suella Braverman
  • Andrew Bridgen
  • Conor Burns
  • Sir William Cash
  • Maria Caulfield
  • Rehman Chishti
  • Sir Christopher Chope
  • Simon Clarke
  • Damian Collins
  • Tracey Crouch
  • Philip Davies
  • David Davis
  • Nadine Dorries
  • Steve Double
  • Richard Drax
  • James Duddridge
  • Iain Duncan Smith
  • Nigel Evans
  • Michael Fabricant
  • Mark Francois
  • Marcus Fysh
  • Zac Goldsmith
  • James Gray
  • Chris Green
  • Dominic Grieve
  • Sam Gyimah
  • Mark Harper
  • Philip Hollobone
  • Adam Holloway
  • Ranil Jayawardena
  • Sir Bernard Jenkin
  • Andrea Jenkyns
  • Boris Johnson
  • Jo Johnson
  • David Jones
  • John Lamont
  • Andrew Lewer
  • Julian Lewis
  • Julia Lopez
  • Tim Loughton
  • Craig Mackinlay
  • Esther McVey
  • Johnny Mercer
  • Anne-Marie Morris
  • Sheryll Murray
  • Priti Patel
  • Owen Paterson
  • Mark Pritchard
  • Dominic Raab
  • John Redwood
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg
  • Laurence Robertson
  • Andrew Rosindell
  • Lee Rowley
  • Henry Smith
  • Sir Desmond Swayne
  • Ross Thomson
  • Michael Tomlinson
  • Anne-Marie Trevelyan
  • Shailesh Vara
  • Martin Vickers
  • Theresa Villiers

Will probably vote against the deal (32 MPs)

  • John Baron
  • Guto Bebb
  • David Evennett
  • Michael Fallon
  • George Freeman
  • Justine Greening
  • Rob Halfon
  • Trudy Harrison
  • Sir John Hayes
  • Gordon Henderson
  • Pauline Latham
  • Sir Edward Leigh
  • Sir Greg Knight
  • Anne Main
  • Scott Mann
  • Stephen McPartland
  • Nigel Mills
  • Damien Moore
  • Matthew Offord
  • Neil Parish
  • Sir Mike Penning
  • Douglas Ross
  • Royston Smith
  • Anna Soubry
  • Bob Stewart
  • Sir Robert Syms
  • Derek Thomas
  • Craig Tracey
  • Giles Watling
  • John Whittingdale
  • Sarah Wollaston
  • William Wragg

Will perhaps vote against the deal (9 MPs)

  • Robert Courts
  • Alister Jack
  • John Lamont
  • Phillip Lee
  • Stephen Metcalfe
  • Andrew Mitchell
  • Grant Shapps
  • Hugo Swire
  • Mike Wood

“Over 100 Conservative MPs will rebel over May’s deal”. Are we being played?

Ponder the possible consequences of the Government losing the meaningful vote by less than expected. Disaster would be spun as triumph.

It is beguilingly easy to be drawn into treating Project Fear Two, in full flight yesterday with the Treasury and the Bank of England’s economic projections, as though they were being published in the same context as those that were during Project Fear One.  But there is a difference.  Last time round, the audience was roughly 35 million potential voters.  This time, it is a mere 650 of them – members of Parliament.  These are relatively unlikely to be swayed by the claims and counter-claims one way or another.

In an important sense, therefore, the Government’s campaign grid is a distraction – misdirection, to draw an analogy with magicians’ stagecraft.  While Leavers, Remainers and others point to and shout at Theresa May, Philip Hammond, Mark Carney and so on, the real action is quietly taking place elsewhere.

For many, perhaps most, Tory MPs, arguments about Brexit itself will not be decisive when they file through the lobbies on December 11.  What will count at least as much is a jumble of the following: party unity, Association opinion, personal ambition, domestic circumstances (never underestimate the impact of the views of spouses or partners), and, above all, the implications of the vote, and its aftermath, for their seats at the next election.  While Ben Wallace takes centre-stage at the circus today, the whips will be whispering away to their charges in the stalls.

They, Downing Street and the Treasury have reason not to be put out by claims that roughly 100 Conservative MPs will oppose Theresa May when the “meaningful vote’ comes, and that the Government could lose it by 200.  On the one hand, it is true that revolt breeds more revolt, that there is safety in numbers, and that wavering Tory backbenches may feel that the reported growing number of rebels gives them cover to oppose the deal.  On the other, it is worth peering a bit more closely at the numbers.

The present estimates tend to lump together MPs who originally went public to oppose Chequers, say, and those who have made a specific commitment to vote against the deal.  The figure of 100 dissidents, having been reported, then tends to be re-reported – and, as is the way with these things, gain a life of its own.  But are these caculations reliable?  Some of the original “Stand Up for Brexit” supporters, for example, signed up to oppose the Chequers plans during the summer.  However, to commit to standing up for Brexit – for example, by opposing those plans – isn’t exactly the same as committing to oppose the deal.

Our test is a simple one.  Have the MPs concerned pledged specifically to vote against the deal?  (Saying one doesn’t support it isn’t quite the same thing: any MP who uses that form of words might abstain instead.)  If an MP says he will oppose it “as it stands”, can that be counted as a firm commitment?  Be ready for some trade either way.  Some MPs who have not yet come out against May’s plans will do so.  Others who have done so will resile, calculating that an about turn will have little impact in Chuffnell Poges or Sin City South-West or wherever their seat happens to be.

We will be producing our own estimate shortly.  In the meantime, ponder the possible consequences of an expectation that the Government will lose the meaningful vote by 200…and it actually losing it by, say, 50.  Disaster would suddenly be spun as triumph.

So were we Downing Street, we might not be displeased by those present reports about the numbers.  They might make preparing for a second vote a bit easier – potentially useful, given the daunting position for the Prime Minister on a first one.  Hints at honours, pledges of promotion, help with a constituency by-pass or new hospital wing: all these will be deployed.  Plus fear of Jeremy Corbyn and a general election – Fixed Terms Act or no.  There is the best part of a fortnight to go before the vote on December 11.