The defeat of the EU withdrawal deal is the first imperative
The prime minister yesterday made clear in a press conference that she was unhappy with the backstop, but that she had had to make compromises to get the best possible EU withdrawal deal for the whole of the UK.
Theresa May’s confidence might be because she feels a sense of duty to conclude the Brexit negotiations after she was responsible for losing last year’s general election. Or it might be she thinks she can strike a deal with Labour MPs.
The conventional wisdom at Westminster is that there is no way to get this deal through, without a surprise defection to prop up the government from Labour backbenchers. But last night pro Brexit Conservatives were reported to be concerned that Mrs May could not be trusted with a no deal scenario, because she might suddenly agree to an arrangement with Labour to keep the UK in the customs union and single market just before Britain crashed out.
These fears seem reasonable, given that the prime minister has repeatedly said there would be no border in the Irish Sea, but has agreed to a deal that will probably lead to a full such border, certainly for regulations and probably ultimately for customs too. Her assurances turned out to be dust.
The situation is marginally less bleak than it was last night. Two cabinet ministers have resigned, including the Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, as has the junior NIO minister, Shailesh Vara.
Mr Vara, who is of Indian origin, is one of the many pro Brexit Tories from an ethnic minority background who belie the notion that wanting to quit the EU is a white middle aged reactionary position.
It is welcome that he cited the constitutional integrity of the UK among his reasons, given that NIO ministers are so often silent in the face of Dublin’s approach to Northern Ireland matters, no matter how partisan.
If, as seems likely, this deal is rejected, it is far from clear what happens next. But its defeat is the first imperative.