Could Theresa May be on the verge of achieving a Brexit Christmas miracle?
Less than a month after May survived a no-confidence challenge from within her own party after members of the European Council repudiated her pleas for a meaningful concession on the Irish backstop, support for May's unpopular Brexit plan is finally gathering steam, with several rebellious members of the European Research Group and the Democratic Unionist Party apparently ready to support her plan at a vote next month.
To be sure, this support is predicated on the notion that May will be able to win a concession from the EU if her first meaningful vote - scheduled for Jan. 14 - fails. May's chief negotiator, Ollie Robbins, reportedly returned to Brussels last week to continue talks with the European Commission, after the EU said that talks between the two sides had ceased. Robbins is reportedly hoping to strike a deal by the end of the second week in January.
Concessions would make it easier for May to win over a few Brexiteers, including, possibly, ERG leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the group. One of May's cabinet ministers told the Times that securing support from Rees-Mogg was "a work in progress." Some Brexiteers who backed the leadership challenge against May are reportedly facing pressure from their constituencies to cave and support the deal, according to the Times.
Other Brexiteers have come under pressure from their local Conservative Party associations. At least two rebels have been threatened with deselection by their constituency party chairmen after publicly supporting efforts to oust May.
Meanwhile, a recent meeting between May and DUP leader Arlene Foster has reportedly helped thaw the relationship between the two, and could open the door for May to win back support of the DUP, who have been making noises about possibly supporting Jeremy Corbyn's push for a vote of no confidence in May's government.
The relationship between the Tories and the DUP, which has been in the deep freeze, appears to be thawing.
It follows a successful one-to-one meeting between May and Arlene Foster this month when the DUP leader "saw the whites of May’s eyes and realised she was serious about securing concessions on the backstop," an ally said.
After May and her senior ministers reportedly started discussing alternatives to her Brexit plan, the Times said it's becoming increasingly clear that the EU will ultimately offer concessions - but that they won't come right away, and that May's deal may need to be defeated in a vote first. Then, May's team says it's looking increasingly likely that a second vote could be successful - which would validate May's strategy of running out the clock.
It is understood that the changes required by the DUP are significant and the EU is not going to offer them straight away.
It is now expected that the government could bring forward a second vote within two days if May’s deal is voted down when the meaningful vote is held in the week beginning January 14.
"It’s now very much our expectation that we can win this vote, if not the first time then the second time around," according to a senior government source.
May is reportedly hoping to capitalize on this growing moment by inviting Tory MPs to a party at No. 10 during the first week of the year. In another sign of support for May, the Times reported that May's cabinet ministers are devising a plan to keep her in power for at least another two years - a plan that has been buoyed by "a substantial shift in the vote arithmetic" regarding May's deal.
Meanwhile, in an end of the year letter published in the Express, May urged MPs to unite and back her plan so that Parliament can move on and focus on domestic issues, which have been largely neglected since the Brexit process began more than 2 years ago. She demanded that lawmakers abandon the "Leave" and "Remain" labels and come together to ensure that the will of the voters is carried out.
If May does secure the votes for her deal, that victory will go a long way toward vindicating her approach of ratcheting up pressure by running out the clock. However, this wouldn't be the first time we've heard that the EU is on the verge of offering concession, only for them to tell May to 'drop dead'.