Theresa May unveiled her “new bold offer” at 4pm yesterday. Before her speech had even finished, Tory MPs were publicly declaring that they would not be voting for the withdrawal agreement bill next month. The number of parliamentarians from both sides of the Commons saying the same has continued to rise. We knew the Prime Minister’s last-ditch effort to get her deal passed was unlikely to convince Labour or go down particularly well – but this reception is worse than anyone imagined. She has actually gone backwards, with 35 Tories (at the time of writing) switching from ‘aye’ last time to ‘no’ this time.
The Prime Minister’s “10-point offer” was designed to give something to everyone, but none of the proposals were sufficient to convince any single camp. To her backbenchers, she said the government would be legally obliged to seek alternative arrangements to the backstop by 2020 – but only to seek, not find. To the Labour leadership, she proposed a “customs compromise” – not permanent customs union membership. To Labour MPs in Leave seats such as Lisa Nandy, she suggested a workers’ rights bill and a pledge to match EU rules for goods, protecting just-in-time manufacturing – yet we can’t expect members of this group to stick their necks out and vote for the deal when it is certain not to pass.
Possibly the most controversial offer was the one made to MPs in favour of holding another referendum. Any rapprochement between the government and this group is outrageous to most Conservatives. And the bid wasn’t effective, because her generous offer was simply to facilitate a vote during the passage of the bill and implement the result of this vote. Apart from angering her own side, the problems with this plan are that: a) MPs would get a vote on the idea without the PM’s scheme anyway, thanks to amendments; b) pro-PV Labour MPs are not willing to vote for the deal at second reading before there is a chance of a referendum being attached; and c) everyone knows that there is no Commons majority for another referendum. The government has overlooked the fact that a public vote is regarded as a means to an end (i.e. stopping Brexit), not an end in itself.
The Prime Minister must face the wrath of MPs at PMQs this afternoon, followed by a Brexit statement. But speculation is rife that the WAB will not be brought forward after recess in early June as promised – why would May want her final act as Prime Minister to be a defeat on the deal even worse than her last, possibly the worst of all? One Labour MP I spoke to last night, who had been discussing the response to her speech with Tories, thought she might go during recess, after the European elections, at some point next week. It’s difficult to see how Conservative MPs could allow her to cling on for much longer. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.