May Weighs Return To Brussels As Ministers Threaten To Resign En Masse If 'Draft Deal' Brought Up For Vote

With only two days of debate left before Theresa May's planned vote on her supremely unpopular Brexit plan, May's government has never looked more vulnerable. Over the weekend, a handful of senior ministers have threatened to resign en masse if May doesn't return to Brussels to try and "handbag" her EU rivals into offering a better deal (one that doesn't create the possibility that the UK could be trapped within the EU customs union indefinitely, with no say over the rules by which it must abide), according to the Telegraph.

Though May has resolutely insisted that the vote will be held as scheduled on Tuesday following the end of a five-day period of debate,  the revelations from her attorney general's legal advice - released by No. 10 last week under duress after May was found to be 'in contempt' of an earlier vote calling for a "full report" on the AG's advice - confirmed the worst fears of Tory Brexiteers, and have caused even more conservatives to come out against the deal (the public count was 108 so far, likely enough to sink May's deal, assuming the DUP, SNP and the majority of Labour MPs also vote against). Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt, who opted to stay on and try to change May's deal from the inside, is said to be weighing a resignation in the next 48 hours if May doesn't attempt to win a better deal.

In what amounted to a very public rebuke of May's position, Will Quince resigned Sunday as parliamentary private secretary in the Ministry of Defence, saying in a Telegraph editorial that "I do not want to be explaining to my constituents why Brexit is still not over and we are still obeying EU rules in the early 2020s or beyond."

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And though a few senior ministers have insisted on cable news that May's deal could still pass (Brexit Minister Kwasi Kwarteng argued as much during a Sunday interview), former foreign secretary Boris Johnson raised the stakes should the deal be met with defeat by telling the BBC that May must reject the "unacceptable" agreement with the EU (suggesting that she try withholding UK payments tot he bloc) or hinting that he could stage a challenge for the conservative leadership, according to Bloomberg.

Specifically, Johnson demanded that May extricate the UK from the "backstop mess", which remains the primary objection for the EU.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Jon Trickett said Sunday that Labour is ready to form a minority government during the chaotic aftermath of a failed vote on May's deal - something that could open the door to another general election (one that the conservatives fear could lead to Labour winning an outright majority and Corbyn replacing May as prime minister).

"We are ready to form a minority government should that be necessary - and it could happen on Wednesday morning - and to begin to reset the negotiation and take the country forward in a much better direction."

With Jeremy Corbyn and Johnson breathing down her neck, May is reportedly seriously considering a return to Brussels on Monday - the same day that the ECJ is expected to declare that the UK could unilaterally declare an end to the Brexit process - to try and "handbag" her former partners into a better deal, according to the Sunday Times. Top EU bureaucrats including Donald Tusk and Jean Claude Juncker have repeatedly insisted that no changes can be made to the current deal, and it's unlikely that any changes to the accompanying political statement setting out a framework for future trade talks would be enough to placate angry Brexiteers. 

If the deal does come up for a vote, Conservative and Labour MPs are conspiring to pass a motion that would require votes on the individual provisions of the deal - in effect wresting control of the negotiation process from May. Amber Rudd, the Remain-backing Work and Pensions Secretary, became the first Cabinet minister to discuss publicly the merits of a “Plan B” if Mrs May crashes to defeat, by backing a Norway-style solution to Brexit.

In what appeared to be a last ditch effort to whip up the votes for her clearly doomed deal, May unleashed "Project Fear 3.0" last night, warning that groceries should start 'stockpiling' goods in warehouses if her deal is voted down (increasing the likelihood of a 'no deal' Brexit).

Unfortunately for May, lawmakers aren't buying it. Because, as JP Morgan pointed out last week, if May can't win a better deal from the EU, it's likely that the end result will be 'no Brexit', not 'no deal'. So investors will now turn their attention to whether May can successfully strong arm the EU into dropping the controversial Irish backstop - and, should she fail, whether she will call off the deal vote entirely and instead opt to begin proceedings that would eventually lead to a second referendum (after all, this might have been May's plan all along).

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