After months of trying, a cross-party group of backbenchers finally succeeded late last month in wresting control of the Commons agenda from the government in an unprecedented move. But in an indication of just how dysfunctional the Brexit process has become, the group's hopes for formulating a consensus around an alternative to Theresa May's now thrice-rejected withdrawal agreement have been dashed, as the Commons has rejected every alternative proposal raised during two separate indicative votes over the past week.
Now, with Speaker Bercow reportedly contemplating stopping May from bringing her deal back for a fourth vote, and different factions in the Commons demanding the prime minister push for a "managed" no deal exit (a possibility that the EU has already rejected) while another pushes May to ask for a lengthy Article 50 extension, and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warning that a no-deal exit for Britain is looking "more likely by the day" and that extending Article 50 would pose "significant risks."
Another group of Brexiteer cabinet ministers is reportedly urging May to issue a "final ultimatum" for the EU to change the Irish Backstop, while Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond is reportedly planning to admonish the Commons for failing to deliver Brexit, and urge them to now consider calling another referendum.
Sir Oliver Letwin
Amid the chaos, Sir Oliver Letwin, the leader of the backbenchers group, told Sky News on Tuesday that he has no plans to call for another indicative vote on Wednesday, though his group will once again control the agenda thanks to a business motion passed yesterday. Furthermore, in perhaps the clearest sign that Letwin, the would-be Brexit savior, has thrown in the towel, he reportedly said he's now "90% sure we'll drop out with No Deal." His ally Nick Boles, who sponsored a proposal in Monday's indicative vote that would have called for a softer Brexit, resigned the Tory whip and left the conservative party last night after blaming the party for failing to get its shit together.
NEW: Told Letwin et al have no plans for Indicative Votes on Weds. Instead trying to pave way for Cooper bill to be laid on Thurs to legislate against No Deal & mandate govt to put forward proposal. But mood grim. MP tells me Letwin is now “90% sure we’ll drop out with No Deal”— Beth Rigby (@BethRigby) April 2, 2019
Meanwhile, No. 10 officials reportedly told the cabinet during a five-hour marathon meeting on Tuesday that if the Commons doesn't pass May's withdrawal agreement on the fourth attempt, that the most likely alternative would be a lengthy extension of Brexit. Though it's unclear how they arrived at this conclusion, considering the EU has said it probably won't approve another extension.
Brexit latest:— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) April 2, 2019
In a meeting before political cabinet, No.10 officials briefed senior ministers that a long extension to Brexit would be the most likely outcome if the withdrawal agreement doesn’t pass Commons on a fourth attempt.
There was no date mentioned in this pre-political cabinet meeting, although ministers think the end of the year is most likely. During the briefing there was no explicit suggestion May would remain prime minister during this period.— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) April 2, 2019
I understand that May will tell political cabinet if it is a choice between revocation of Article 50 and pursuing a no-deal Brexit, she would opt for no-deal.— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) April 2, 2019
Political cabinet is discussing how to try and get the Brexit deal through the Commons. One option to be discussed is whether it could get through with Labour votes if a confirmatory referendum was tacked on. Surprisingly little hope of getting of the DUP back on board.— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) April 2, 2019
A general election is on the agenda but the Tory party’s precarious state has made it difficult to contemplate. Hearing party chief executive Sir Mick Davis might address ministers about this, as per my FT story last week.https://t.co/U1RGXDBMBI— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) April 2, 2019
The original plan for today was to hold political cabinet this morning, then regular Cabinet in the afternoon. But sources think No.10 was concerned ministers might meet to plot and brief in the lunch break. Hence why they were shortened and brought together.— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) April 2, 2019
Health warning: this was all from a pre-political Cabinet meeting.— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) April 2, 2019
Political cabinet is still ongoing and what is actually discussed (or even concluded!) may ultimately differ.
As the Commons splinters into competing factions, another group of cross-party MPs is preparing to put forward a bill that would try to definitively rule out 'No Deal'...though it's not exactly clear how this would work (remember, MPs have already ruled it out in a non-binding vote). For now at least, the pound has erased its gains from overnight on the latest batch of disheartening Brexit news...though if 'No Deal' is confirmed during an emergency EU summit later this month, analysts see more downside ahead.