Theresa May's Strategy Backfires: She's Headed For A Disastrous 200-Vote Defeat

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Posted: Jan 11, 2019 9:57 AM
Theresa May's Strategy Backfires: She's Headed For A Disastrous 200-Vote Defeat

BBC research shows that May is headed for a disaster on Tuesday, with the prospect of a loss by over 200 votes.

Charge of the Light Brigade

Eurointelligence for months had Theresa May's deal the odd-on favorite. I notice a change in tune tonight, via email.

Theresa May's strategy to portray Tuesday's vote as an open-ended three-way game - deal, no deal, no Brexit - has clearly not worked. Instead of scaring her opponents, she achieved the exact opposite. The hard Remainers and the hard Leavers both believe that they will better off by rejecting her deal. The can of course not both be right, but what matters for now is the fact that they hold those views. BBC research shows that the deal would currently be rejected by a majority of 228. Support for the deal has actually declined over the holiday period.

We should therefore brace for a Charge of the Light Brigade incident on Tuesday, unless May takes some dramatic action beforehand. If she were to lose on such a scale, both her premiership and the deal might be beyond redemption. A defeat by 30 or 40 votes would be bad enough, but it would at least allow her to agree tweaks in the political declaration that could win over enough support. But there is no way the agreement could be tweaked in such a way as to persuade well over 100 MPs to change their vote. In this case, she would have no alternative but to hand over the process to parliament.

We believe that her only viable strategy is to frame this debate as a straight choice between deal and no deal. She could still do so before Tuesday, or alternatively accept the inevitable defeat, sit back, and run down the clock. The latter has the disadvantage of uncertainty. A 200-vote defeat could end her premiership instantly. Nor does it make sense to hand over the process to the parliament now, having sidelined the Commons during the Brexit negotiations. We thus conclude that Downing Street has committed another serious strategic error - like calling an election in 2017. We think it would have been a better strategy to get the European Council to pre-emptively frustrate third options from the outset, for example by committing not to extend Art. 50 except to make a little more time for ratification. Such a pre-commitment would, at a stroke, effectively rule out a host of perceived alternative options - including a second referendum or the Labour Party's version of a Brexit. There can never be a majority for the withdrawal agreement unless everybody understands that the alternative is no deal.

What about the Norway option? Right after the Brexit referendum we argued that the UK's best choice would be to join Efta and the EEA. While this would not have solved the Irish border problem, since customs procedures would still have been necessary, it would have made it much easier to deal with the problem through technical facilitation. Norway still might end up as the compromise if Labour were to support it. We noted a column by Owen Jones, a Corbyn-supporting columnist in the Guardian, who writes that Norway is not the ideal option for Labour but the best of a bad bunch. Like us, he does not see a second referendum as a solution to the standoff, not least because there is no decisive majority for Remain. A poll of pollsshows a very narrow majority for Remain, 52-48, a lead we consider not robust enough to survive a campaign that would without a doubt turn into a plebiscite on democratic procedures. And we simply cannot see the UK government campaigning for Remain or the EU accepting an Art. 50 extension for a second in-or-out referendum if the government campaigns for Out.

In his speech yesterday, Corbyn gave no indication that he had shifted his scepticism on the second referendum though he remains formally committed to the process agreed by the Labour conference in the summer. A second referendum formally remains on the table, but only after a no-confidence vote fails. He said he would only commit to a vote of no confidence if he had a realistic chance of winning. We would not rule out the possibility that Corbyn's prevarication may be what pushes the Commons towards a reluctant 11th-hour acceptance of May's deal, or towards no deal.

Default Action

Yesterday, I stated Telegraph writer Ambrose Evans-Pritchard Gets it Wrong. He said a no-deal Brexit is off the table and to buy the British Pound.

I have no comments about the pound at this moment but I pointed out that a no deal Brexit is the default option. It clearly is on the table, by default.

What Britain Really Thinks of the Brexit deal - Latest Polling

The Telegraph gets it wrong again. Please consider What Britain Really Thinks of the Brexit deal - Latest Polling 

Despite this apparent disappointment in the "mess" of leaving the EU so far, key to understanding how Mrs May's deal could still pass is in laying out the other options on the table.

The public, in principle, preferred both Remain and no deal to the withdrawal, but there was also a majority of people who wanted MPs to vote through the deal.

No Majority For Anything

The problem with this analysis is the public does not get to vote. Importantly, there is no majority for anything.

Unless there is agreement on something else, hard Brexit is the default option. And whatever the something else is, it must be acceptable to the EU. And it probably needs to be acceptable to DUP.

A three-way public vote with second choices is a joke, and the Telegraph has to know that.

Magic Wands

I do not rule out a magic wand. A few weeks ago a loss by 50 votes would have seemed huge. All of a sudden we are discussing losing by 200. A loss by 75 could be a moral victory.

And what if the EU decides to give May some sort of legal guarantee?

Thus, I do not rule out May's deal passing. I simply rule out bad reporting by The Telegraph.

Policy Errors

My baseline scenario remains the default option. Theresa May did not play her cards very well and the EU overplayed its hand expecting the UK would buckle.

There is no reason to fear a no-deal brexit. The term itself is silly. The relationship between the UK and EU will simply fall back to WTO rules.

Not only will the UK avoid needlessly paying billions of dollars to the EU, it will escape idiotic EU customs rules and regain fishing rights. Fishing rights and payments alone will have huge bargaining power down the road.

May sold the farm for nothing. A hard Brexit is the best option. And with both the UK and EU preparing for it, it is not the least bit scary.