The Tory cabinet has accepted Theresa May’s draft Brexit deal—after a five-hour meeting on Wednesday.
But the stench of death hovers over the deal. Up to 11 cabinet ministers are reported to have spoken against it.
And on Thursday morning Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and work and pensions secretary Esther McVey resigned from the cabinet. Raab lasted just five months as Brexit secretary, after replacing David Davis - who quit over Theresa May's Chequers proposals.
Two junior ministers also went.
The resignations underline that there is very serious opposition to the deal from the section of the Tory party that wants a complete break from the European Union (EU) coupled with even harsher curbs on migration than May is putting forward.
There were strong rumours that MPs from this section of the party are going to send in dozens of letters of no confidence in May—even before they have read the deal.
Until recently Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the European Research Group (ERG)—which numbers about 60 Tory MPs—had urged his co-thinkers not to try to force a change of leader.
But on Tuesday night he said he was considering joining other Tory MPs in calling for a vote of no confidence in May. Another Brexit-supporting MP added on Wednesday evening, “People are realising that they aren’t going to change the policy without changing the leader.”
Under Conservative Party rules, a no confidence vote in the leader is held if 15 percent of MPs (48 of them) write a letter to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the backbench 1922 committee, demanding one.
Even if the letters do not bring down May, they would show that this Brexit deal couldn’t pass the Commons without substantial Labour support.
The Democratic Unionist party, which props up Mrs May’s government, has also warned that it will not support the draft Brexit treaty. Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, said on Wednesday her party could not back a deal that left Northern Ireland “adrift in the future”.
The draft exit treaty includes a UK-wide (including Northern Ireland) customs backstop plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland. This will keep Britain in a customs union with the EU until a more permanent solution is agreed.
And there will be extra rules applying to Northern Ireland.
All this means that for an indefinite period the British government would have to accept whatever economic regulations the EU decided, but would have no way of influencing the decisions because it was out of the EU.
According to the Times newspaper, Sabine Weyand, the deputy to Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said the deal means Britain “must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls”.
This aspect has united groups of both Remainers and Leavers in the Tory party against the deal. It has brought together racist Boris Johnson and Tony Blair, with war criminal Blair saying, “If reports of it are true. This deal isn’t a compromise, it’s a capitulation.
“It is coated in heavy fudge, but that is the inedible biscuit beneath the coating.”
Blair said he and Boris Johnson were in an “unholy alliance”
But May is not without some backing.
“This Brexit deal is best for Britain,” said the Daily Express headline on Wednesday morning. The Daily Mail’s main editorial said, “A deal at last! Now give it a chance.”
The International Monetary Fund, the enforcer of austerity, has this week claimed that the British economy will bounce back once an exit deal is agreed.
May will desperately fight on. The first argument is to say to pro-Brexit MPs that if they don’t accept her deal then there might not be a Brexit at all as there will be demands for a second referendum. The second is to wait for the deal to lose in parliament, see the pound plummet and the bond market apply its pressure, and then make some small changes and vote again.
The third is to point out to Tory MPs that defeat for this deal in parliament might trigger a general election—with the threat of Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.
And finally May can use big business to put the squeeze on MPs with the threat that unless there is a calm Brexit process there might be chaos that hits profits.
None of this should be underestimated. May might get her deal through parliament, but it’s far from certain.
Labour is poised to vote against the deal
Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesperson said on Wednesday that if MPs reject the prime minister’s deal, in a vote expected to take place early next month, “our priority is for a different, alternative Labour plan for Brexit, which puts jobs and living standards first”.
Any Labour MP who backs the Tory deal is passing up the chance to bring down the government.
The splits among the Tories should be the signal to increase the resistance to them on all fronts, and to force a general election.
This is not what Labour MPs called for in response to May's statement about the deal on Thursday. Instead many of them called for a "People's Vote" - effectively a second referendum.
Even Corbyn did not demand a general election and merely ended his comments by saying "the government must now withdraw this half-baked deal".
We want the Tories out now.