Wednesday 6 March 2019 8:21 pm

Brexit-backing Tories are running out of road


Christian May is the editor of City A.M.

Christian May is the editor of City A.M.

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Next week, MPs will be asked to vote (again) on the government's proposed Brexit deal.

While Theresa May's team attempts to woo Labour MPs with offers of cash for poor areas and commitments on workers' rights, the attorney general and Brexit secretary have been in Brussels, frantically trying to win concessions on the thorny Irish backstop issue that has so far scuppered May's efforts to get her deal through parliament.

Their conversations with EU negotiators are said to have been “difficult and robust” – but so far fruitless.

Technically, the threat of a no-deal exit hangs over this political tussle. The OECD became the latest body to raise no-deal fears yesterday, warning that it would seriously undermine the UK's economic prospects and drag down global growth. Bank of England governor Mark Carney made the same point on Tuesday, though his team at Threadneedle Street also pointed out that the UK was better prepared than the EU – whose member states have been too focused on luring business from London and not focused enough on mitigating the hit to financial stability. The respected German think-tank, the IFO Institute, has warned that a no-deal scenario would wallop Ireland particularly hard – with a staggering 8.16 per cent hit to their economy. German business leaders are increasingly vocal about the damage that would be caused by a failure to agree an exit deal, as are manufacturers here in the UK.

You might think all of this would motivate the EU to soften its approach to the Irish backstop and allow May to get her deal over the line for the benefit of all concerned.

However, EU officials seem increasingly confident that the Westminster parliament simply will not allow a no-deal outcome – and, if they've read the signs (or newspapers) correctly, why would they go soft on their position?

It really does seem as if the choice facing MPs next week is between May's deal, an even softer Brexit or a delay to the whole idea. Of those opposed to May's deal, only a minority favour no-deal in its place. The sooner pro-Brexit Tories wake up to this reality the sooner they can shift their focus to the infinitely more significant and complex issue of shaping our future trading relationship with the EU.

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