Brexit Latest: Is Boris Johnson's plan about to hit a wall?

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Just as it looked inevitable, Boris Johnson's Brexit deal ran into more trouble on Saturday. Paul Krishnamurty discusses what happens next...

"The effect of Letwin will mean MPs will now be able to amend the Withdrawal Agreement considerably from its current form - in ways that could be ruinous for the Tory party."

In keeping with the general rule of Brexit, the facts changed whilst writing my last piece on Friday. The Letwin Amendment duly obliterated the government's plan for a straight vote on their Brexit deal and consequently, 'Super Saturday' didn't quite live up to its billing.

It would therefore be folly to presume anything about the days ahead but the fundamentals still apply - Brexit is reaching its endgame.

Will EU accept extension?

Despite protestations from Boris Johnson and the charade of multiple letters saying different things to the EU, an extension to Article 50 has been requested. All calculations are contingent on their response.

The government remain adamant they will leave the EU on 31st October. Hard Brexiter MP Daniel Kawczynski is lobbying Poland and Hungary. Any one of the EU27 can veto the extension.

In the meantime, the government will try to bring back the Meaningful Vote today - believing they just about have the numbers to pass. Betfair's market on it rates 'Yes' odds-on at [1.9]. Note, however, that the vote must take place today or that market becomes void. As Lewis Goodall of Sky News explains, this is unlikely. Given that the MV is now uncertain to take place this year, I've cashed out the bet on Yes advised on Friday at 1.9 at 1.56 for a profit.

Letwin Amendment gives parliament the upper hand

If that proves correct, it may come to represent a decisive shift in the Brexit chess game. After a week of quite brilliant PR that almost carried him over the line, the Johnson premiership may be about to hit a wall.

It seems that the effect of Letwin will mean MPs will now be able to amend the Withdrawal Agreement considerably from its current form - in ways that could be ruinous for the Tory party.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that adding a confirmatory referendum was Remainers' winning move. That may well still materialise but another gamechanger is now on the cards - an amendment demanding the whole of the UK stays in the Customs Union.

DUP the key to parliamentary maths

The critical dynamic is the DUP, and their response to Johnson throwing them under a bus. Their ten votes ensured the Letwin amendment passed and there are strong signals they would back a Customs Union. This would keep them tied to the UK and perhaps save them from electoral disaster. They may even ultimately back a referendum.

Both amendments formed part of the earlier series of indicative votes. The Customs Union only lost by three votes and would, in my view, pass once all the previous abstainers jump off the fence. In addition to the DUP, this is the best escape route for those Labour MPs in Leave seats, who felt compelled to go with Johnson's deal despite the ramifications for their party and its priorities.

This would be disastrous for the Tories, who are largely opposed to the CU, because it would block the UK from forming new trade deals. Some will say Brexit is pointless without that freedom. It is hard to envisage Johnson leading the argument for this form of Brexit in an election or referendum. Nigel Farage will make hay, declaring it to be Brexit in name only and split the Tory vote.

My guess is that this CU amendment will pre-empt the crunch - MPs will have to support either a General Election or a referendum, and the EU may well demand such clarity in order to extend A50.

Beware reports and assumptions regarding fixed parliamentary numbers. We are in a fast moving and changing process. This time last week few believed a deal was imminent, and even fewer thought Johnson would have the numbers to pass it. Yet without the Letwin amendment, he would likely have succeeded. A vote on a referendum now would be close but perhaps short by a handful. If following a Customs Union amendment, I reckon it wins as a few Tories conclude this is the only way out of the mess.


Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.

Brexit on 31/10/2019
Meaningful Vote to pass on 19/10/19
Meaningful Vote to pass in 2019
Brexit Date
No Deal Brexit in 2019
Boris Johnson Exit Date
Prime Minister after Boris Johnson
Year of Next Election
When Will Next Election Take Place?
Most Seats at Next General Election
Second Vote of No Confidence in 2019
Article 50 to be Revoked
First to Happen - Brexit or General Election?

Paul Krishnamurty,

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