Is Theresa May Nearing A Brexit Deal Breakthrough?

Prime Minister Theresa May may finally be on the verge of a breakthrough that could save her Brexit Deal - or at least a version of her Brexit Deal - by finally acquiescing to demands that she throw out the hated Irish Backstop, something that MPs in her fractured Conservative Party, as well as members of the Democratic Unionist Party, the 10 MPs from Northern Ireland who prop up her government, have been begging her to do for months.

According to the Telegraph, the DUP is preparing to back an amendment tabled by Graham Brady, the leader of the Tory backbenchers, that will call for the removal of the Irish Backstop, to be replaced by an unspecified "alternative arrangement". Though the EU27 has insisted that the negotiations over the Brexit deal are finished, and that it wouldn't be willing to make any more alterations to the deal, May's team believes that if she can show that she has the support to pass a modified version of the deal, the EU27 might reluctantly come to the table in a bid to avert a "no deal" Brexit scenario, which economists believe would be a disaster both for the UK and the Continent.

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Brady's amendment is broader than another amendment tabled by Tory MP Andrew Murrison, which calls for adding an expiration date of Dec. 21, 2021 to the backstop. However, Murrison tabled a similar amendment ahead of the meaningful vote earlier this month, but the amendment was rejected by Speaker John Bercow.

To be sure, the Brady amendment is just one of what are expected to be a raft of amendments proposed by MPs from all parties. And while May has continued to publicly oppose throwing out the backstop, the fact remains that it has been clear for months now that any deal with the backstop attached has a snowball's chance in hell of survival. 

Because of this, May is reportedly quietly hoping that, if she can get the DUP on board, along with some 80% of Tories who it's believed would support a deal without the backstop, it would give her enough juice to convince the EU27 that it would be worth renegotiating the deal.

DUP sources confirmed that the Brady amendment would be essential to passing the Brexit deal.

A DUP source said Sir Graham’s amendment represented the best way forward and that it would send the issue back to Brussels with a clear demand for change.

"Certainly the Graham Brady amendment looks promising for us," the source said.

The DUP believes the EU is beginning to accept changes will have to be made to the backstop for Mrs May’s deal to be agreed by MPs.

Sir Graham told The Telegraph the backstop “can't get through the House of Commons - and that leads to alternative arrangements” as he said he hoped his amendment would secure Government support.

"It seems to me the only agreed exit from the EU that can command a majority is the Withdrawal Agreement without a backstop," he said.

Adding more fuel to the fire that has propelled the British pound past its highs from November (the currency is currently on track for its best weekly performance in a year), BuzzFeed reported that May's Chief Whip Julian Smith has been quietly trying to drum up support for the amendments by hinting that the government would push for a reopening of the agreement.

Over a series of meetings with Tory backbenchers on both the Remain and Leave sides this week, details of which have been shared with BuzzFeed News, Julian Smith lobbied colleagues to help Theresa May pressure the EU into making concessions on the backstop, the insurance policy that keeps the Irish border open in all circumstances.

At one meeting, Smith asked MPs if they would support an amendment in the name of 1922 committee chair Graham Brady, which says they would back a deal if the backstop is “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”, according to a source familiar with the discussion.

In earlier talks, Smith discussed coordinating a letter signed by Brexiteers from the European Research Group explicitly stating that they would vote for the withdrawal agreement if the backstop was changed. The plan for a letter was later dropped as focus was directed to an amendment.

Another source said Smith indicated the government could attempt to reopen the withdrawal agreement, something the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier ruled out three times in an interview on Monday. EU and European government officials have also repeatedly rejected suggestions that the backstop could be time-limited.

Though some MPs are reportedly skeptical of Smith's intentions, questioning whether May truly intends to push for meaningful changes to the backstop...or whether Smith has merely been given a "license to bullshit."

One MP said they were sceptical as to whether May would genuinely seek meaningful changes to the backstop if the Brady amendment passed. They questioned if Smith had been given a “licence to bullshit” by Number 10, describing the amendment as a “bait and switch” that could fool the ERG and the Democratic Unionist Party into keeping the PM’s deal alive.

"We have been here before," they added, referring to Brexiteers' belief that they have been misled by Downing Street on previous occasions.

Whatever the case, one fact remains clear: No clear alternative to May's deal has emerged, meaning that the a modified version that doesn't include the backstop could feasible pass Parliament.

One thing's for sure: The EU27 really doesn't like the idea of adding time limits to the backstop (as Michel Barnier again made clear earlier this week). But clearly investors are so eager for good news on the Brexit deal, that they're pinning their hopes once again on the notion that an alliance between May, the DUP and the Brexiteers might finally materialize - and that everything else (namely, the EU27) will just fall into place.

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