Politics 26 November 2018 | 8:53

Brexit Deal-Watch 8: May goes to the mattresses

26 November 2018 08:53

It is never, ever a good sign when a political leader in a jam announces a ‘roadshow’ to engage with the public. I think particularly of Roy Hattersley’s ‘Labour Listens’ or William Hague’s ‘Listening to Britain’ – neither of them conspicuous triumphs.

Now, her Brexit deal signed off in Brussels, Theresa May intends to take the agreement directly to the people, touring the nation in a last-ditch bid to unite the horribly-divided electorate around the 585-page text and its 26-page political annex.

There will be media appearances, too, and a proposed television debate with Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit. You may recall that the Prime Minister grandly boycotted all such TV confrontations during last year’s general election campaign (the real reason being that she is not, shall we say, at her best in such settings). It is a measure of her desperation that she is suddenly open to such televised contests this time round.

All roads now lead to the ‘meaningful vote’ in the Commons, expected in a fortnight. May will warn Tory MPs and the Cabinet today that defeat would take the Brexit process ‘back to square one’.

This is not technically the case. Under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the Government would have 21 days after the deal’s rejection by MPs to present a revised statement of intent to Parliament. The PM would then be expected to report back to the Commons by January 31 with a revised agreement.

The trouble is that Brussels and our 27 EU partners have been very clear that this deal really is the best they have to offer. Sure, there might be a tweak here, a refinement of diplomatic language there. But the fundamentals will not change.

There is no permutation of parliamentary arithmetic that I can see that gets May the 320 votes she needs in next month’s vote. What is her plan? Pure attrition, victory by tedium, brutal pressure upon her own MPs?

As Churchill said of Russia’s actions in 1939, it is ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’. One wonders if even May knows the answer, or is simply responding to the same dogged instincts that persuaded her not to resign last June after her great electoral gamble failed so spectacularly. She fights on…and on, and on.

In any case, the May Family has gone to the mattresses in preparation for a bloody political mafia war. Don’t expect peace any time soon.

PS for a longer explanation of why May’s bid to win the Commons vote is doomed, see my column in today’s Guardian.