In Depth

How Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal could slip through parliament

PM faces huge numerical challenge - but there are signs resistance is crumbling

Boris Johnson has returned from Brussels, where yesterday he announced a new Brexit deal, and will now spend the next 24 hours trying to sell it to MPs before a vote tomorrow in a rare Saturday sitting of the Commons.

Despite his air of triumph, the prime minister will face quite a challenge to get what he calls his “great new deal” approved. Having failed to get the DUP on side, he now needs the support of some combination of Labour MPs, pro-Brexit hardliners and the Conservatives he expelled.

Yet Sky News detects “clear signs that some of the resistance is crumbling”. So can he do it?

Analysis in The Times suggests that 283 MPs will almost certainly vote for the deal, and 299 will vote against it. With 57 MPs undecided, he needs 320 votes to get the deal passed. 

He is already deploying persuasion techniques. Having threatened to expel hardline Brexiteers who fail to back him, government whips have told the Conservative rebels who were kicked out of the party for voting for the Benn act that they may be readmitted if they support the new deal.

Meanwhile, Labour MPs have been offered concessions on workers’ rights in an attempt to win them over.

The DUP remains the main obstacle. The party has said it is “unable” to back the proposals in the Commons as they are not in the best interests of Northern Ireland. Its deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, says Johnson was “too eager by far to get a deal at any cost”.

The focus will therefore swing to Tory Brexiteers who opposed Theresa May’s deal on all three occasions. The 28 hardliners known as the Spartans have not spoken out against Johnson’s deal, says  The Guardian, “giving No 10 hope that they will swing behind the prime minister”.

In The Times, however, Iain Martin argued that the “transparently obvious message” that compromise will be needed “does not, yet, seem to have penetrated all Brexiteer skulls in parliament”. 

After the ERG’s steering committee met on Thursday for a “deep discussion” about the new agreement, a source told The Guardian: “There were a lot of mixed views. This vote will cause some agony for some members, but it will be up to each member’s conscience.”

Although the group has previously stated that it would take its lead from the DUP, several members, including Peter Bone and Andrew Bridgen, signalled that they were likely to vote for the agreement.

Others were sitting on the fence. Steve Baker and Mark Francois said there were only “limited remaining concerns”. Sir Bernard Jenkin said: “It looks very much better than [Theresa] May’s deal.”

Andrew Bridgen, meanwhile, was more explicitly positive, saying of Johnson’s deal: “It looks like Brexit. It smells like Brexit. It is Brexit.” 

David Cameron, the former prime minister, predicted that Johnson will pass the deal. Speaking in North Yorkshire last night, he said: “The thing about the greased piglet is that he manages to slip through other people’s hands where mere mortals fail.

“I hope he’ll get it through parliament. I suspect he will, but it will be tight.”

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