Why Conservative Remainers believe Theresa May will surrender to a soft Brexit

GettyTheresa May
  • Key Brexit amendments that could have avoided a no-deal Brexit were defeated this week after not enough Conservative Remainers turned up to back them.
  • However, Remain-supporting Tory MPs aren’t too despondent after Tuesday’s vote.
  • They calculate that Theresa May’s attempts to renegotiate the Irish backstop will fail.
  • At that point, they hope that Theresa May will be forced to seek an extension of Article 50 and pivot towards a softer Brexit option.

LONDON – There was some anger this week after a Brexit amendment brought forward by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, which would have allowed Parliament to delay Brexit and avoid a no-deal exit, was defeated.

A number of Conservative Remainers either abstained, or voted against the amendment, causing it to fail.

Briefings that up to 40 Remainer ministers could resign to back Cooper’s amendment also failed to materialise with every single one sitting on their hands. A separate amendment by Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, which would have allowed MPs to seize control of the Brexit process was also defeated.

“Last night I said that @YvetteCooperMP was someone you could go on a tiger hunt with,” Conservative MP Nick Boles tweeted the following morning.

“How right I was. I wish I could say the same of all my colleagues.”

The no-show occurred after some in the group argued that they should bide their time and wait for a better opportunity to strike after May failed to renegotiate her deal with the EU.

One prominent former minister who resigned in protest against Theresa May’s Brexit deal argued that the group should abstain from voting on any amendments as a deliberate attempt to put Brexit-supporting MPs in the driving seat for a couple of weeks before watching the government’s attempts to renegotiate her deal in Brussels “implode.”

As a result a separate Brexiteer amendment tabled by Conservative MP Graham Brady and supported by the prime minister herself did pass, requiring her to try and remove the Irish backstop from her deal, something the EU has repeatedly warned it will not do.

This means Tory Brexiteers are now in the driving seat – for the next two weeks, at least, before the prime minister comes back to the House of Commons for another vote in February.

And that is why some Remain-supporting MPs are not too despondent about the defeats to last night’s Cooper and Grieve amendments.

They calculate that the Prime Minister will now go to Brussels, fail in her attempts to renegotiate her Brexit deal, and see a mostly unchanged Brexit deal defeated heavily in parliament for a second time.

At that point, they hope that Theresa May will be forced to seek an extension of Article 50 and pivot towards a softer Brexit option. All the while, they will be less tainted by accusations of having hijacked the Brexit process than if the Cooper or Grieve amendments had been successful.

“The opportunity to take control of the parliamentary agenda was lost last night,” said one Remain-supporting Tory MP on Wednesday.

“But we’ve clarified where we’re heading: Either the PM gets a miraculous breakthrough or, if there’s no movement on the Withdrawal Agreement, she brings a deal back and it falls again.”

It is certainly a risky strategy, because the clock is ticking down towards a no-deal Brexit. But they are depending on the belief that Theresa May – or at least her Cabinet – would not countenance such an outcome, despite the fact it remains the default option.

While it legally remains the default option, there is a growing belief among Conservative MPs that Theresa May would at least seek an extension of Article 50 to prevent the UK from crashing out of the EU in March.

A majority of MPs voted for an amendment expressing opposition to a no-deal outcome on Tuesday, and a growing number of Cabinet ministers including Amber Rudd and Jeremy Wright have refused to rule out resigning if Theresa May fails to try and prevent such an outcome.

“My gut feeling is that the prime minister’s deal will fall on February 14,” said one anti-Brexit Conservative MP.

“At that point, the government will have little or no choice to request an extension of Article 50.”

The question of what happens after that may well be the next battle.

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