Some housekeeping first: looks like the 48 letter challenge to May’s premiership has stalled, rather embarrassingly for the main cheerleaders involved. Meanwhile, Spain is threatening to bring down the whole deal from the EU side over provisions covering Gibraltar – remember, the deal still has to be ratified by the EU27. There are still a lot of twists and turns in the tail.
The way I see it, we’ve come down to two choices: May gets her deal through parliament and we thus get a very soft Brexit (or indeed, stay in transition for possibly decades) or we will have a second referendum. If we have a second referendum, I think the country will probably vote to Remain. I want to say here, not because I think Remain campaigners have really learned the lessons of 2016 and will thus run a vastly superior campaign, or indeed that the country has got that much more Remainery over the last two and half years, just that if you think about the two ways the referendum would go, they both favour Remain greatly. If it’s a three-way with no deal, May’s deal and Remain on the ballot, the Leave vote gets split. If it’s just May’s deal versus Remain, the Leavers have spent all of their time basically campaigning for Remain the last few weeks. I’m far from saying it would be in the bag for Remain, but they would start out from a much better place this time round; attacking an actual deal is way easier than punching the air.
I just don’t see no deal happening. For a while, I thought that the basic inertia of so much of the current parliament would see us tumbling out, but I no longer see that as particularly realistic; I give a less than 2% chance. There are too many people on the Tory benches who would see no deal as a disaster for both the country and the Conservative party; there are too many Labour MPs who would do whatever they had to in order to avoid no deal; then you’ve got about 50-odd MPs already in the SNP, Lib Dems and other smaller parties who will vote for a second referendum, meaning that takes the target you’d need to get something through parliament down substantially. If May’s deal gets voted down, a second referendum starts to look inevitable, if only because it begins to look like the only option. And for those saying there’s no time left, please engage your brains: everyone knows the EU Commission would grant an extension of Article 50 if there was a second referendum in the offing. One of the strange things about the present is that the same people who think extending the Article 50 period for a second referendum is impossible are the very same ones who think we’ll be able to get a brand new deal out of the Commission in 15 minutes.
I still wouldn’t write off May’s deal getting through parliament entirely. Many a time have we all thought that May was cornered and would never be able to cobble the votes she needed together, only to see her squeak through. It could happen again. However, if it doesn’t this time round, remaining in the European Union starts to look likely in a way it hasn’t since June 2016.