February 22, 2019
The maths of a Brexit deal
The Times has one of the more useful Brexit stories we have seen in a while - on the maths on the Brexit deal in the House of Commons. The analysis is based on how MPs voted on amendments, and suggests that a majority is within reach of Theresa May. The two amendments considered were the Brady amendment, which proposed legal clarification to the withdrawal agreement, and the Cooper/Boles amendment to extend Art. 50.
The Brady amendment was backed by 7 Labour MPs, and a further 7 voted against Cooper/Boles and 11 abstained. Based on these voting patterns, this would suggest that 25 Labour MPs could vote in favour of the deal. We would add that there are others who have so far backed Labour's official policy, but who said they might back the deal if they get assurances on policies. Cicero's estimate of 25 is thus, in our view, on the conservative side, but probably not far off.
The following maths is based on the assumption that the DUP supports the deal. If not, there will be no deal in our view. With these numbers Theresa May can afford to lose up 34 of her own MPs and still get the deal through. Last week, 72 Brexit-supporting Tory MPs voted against the government. So she would need over half them to support her in the meaningful vote. We think this is possible, but she needs to come back from Brussels with something to show for the negotiations there. That will happen, but probably not until close to the Brexit deadline.
The main factor likely to drive some of those Tory MPs to support the deal is the sheer volume of reports suggesting that pro-EU MPs are lining up to support the Cooper amendment next week, and that Jeremy Corbyn may eventually lean in favour of a second referendum. As we explained in detail yesterday, the most likely outcome of a no-vote is an election, accompanied by a short Art. 50 extension. This is also one of the reasons why we would not take it for granted that the new group of independent MPs will necessarily oppose the deal. The new independent group is not even a party. It is not prepared for a snap election.
Both the Guardian and the Times report this morning that Jeremy Corbyn is leaning towards a second referendum. We have argued before that at some point he could end up supporting it - as a kiss of death. We see no majority for a second referendum in the House of Commons and there is substantial opposition to it even among Labour MPs, especially those holding narrow majorities in pro-Brexit constituencies. We agree with the source cited by the Times that Labour's own proposal of a customs union would have to be formally defeated in a Commons vote before a new policy could be adopted.