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Defeat, deal, or no deal?
December 2018 / January 2019

Nevertheless, once a government loses a confidence vote it will be very difficult to manage the process and more by accident than anything else we could fall into an early general election. What is sure, if such an election were to be held, is that it would be confused and break our party system. There would undoubtedly be Conservatives standing against each other on pro- and anti-deal tickets, and the party would be split, perhaps irrevocably. It is also a fairly sure thing that the much-hyped new centre party would launch, running on an anti-Brexit platform, and putting forward a well-funded slate of candidates in some form of alliance with the Liberal Democrats. An early election would change the party landscape in the UK to a greater extent than it has shifted for 100 years. That is the strongest reason why it is unlikely and why so many MPs, especially but not exclusively on the Tory side, will be doing their utmost to prevent it.

May’s chances of getting through some version of her deal become much stronger once both a general election and a second referendum have been ruled out — and once MPs collectively accept that. Under those circumstances, many more Labour MPs will be tempted to support her deal as their preferred options will not be on the table and a no-deal Brexit — for which they fear being blamed if they have blocked the alternatives — will otherwise be the default position. The same logic will apply to the Tory hard Remainers. The EU will also have to think hard about how many concessions it is willing to offer to May to enable her to get her deal approved.

If the EU offers little or nothing that May can present as a compromise we are probably heading for a no-deal Brexit. There clearly is no parliamentary majority for it — but it remains the default position if nothing else can be approved. It is more probable that the EU will be able to offer just enough for May to be able to push through a version of her deal once the other options have been ruled out.

Where are we likely to be in early 2019? In order of likelihood I would suggest we will be heading for: a version of the May deal; a no-deal Brexit, either under May or more likely under a new, interim, Tory leader; the Norway option and EFTA membership under a new Conservative Prime Minister; a general election; and, least likely of all, a second referendum. It won’t take long for me to be proved right or wrong.
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