“Open your ears,” writes Shakespeare, in the first three words of Henry IV, Part Two, “for which of you will stop / The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?” What is Rumour saying this morning? Here are some selected extracts –
Theresa May will craft an amendment to minimise the scale of her defeat tomorrow. The Government will eventually declare that Brexit is revoked, or will gave way to Parliament’s demand for the same. This will need a Bill. This will not need a Bill. Theresa May will ask for Brexit to be delayed, in order to prepare for No Deal; or to soften the country up before revocation; or simply to give her deal more time. This will require a simple vote on a statutory instrument. The EU will accept her request. The EU will refuse it. John Bercow will revolutionise Commons procedure, and prioritise a new Private Members’ Bill to revoke or delay Brexit. Dominic Grieve will seize control of the House, with the Speaker’s help, and bring about a second referendum. Nick Boles will do so, and deliver Norway Plus.
As Mark Wallace pointed on this site last Friday, Downing Street wants MPs believe some of this, in order to bluff them into voting for her deal, and squeeze the EU into offering real concessions on the backstop. The Prime Minister is poised to make a Commons statement this afternoon, but it is likely to offer only “reassurances” and “clarificaions” from the EU, which is watching and waiting to see the scale of her coming defeat. So is the ERG and its allies, conscious that No Deal is the default setting, and that each day brings us nearer it, in the absence of an agreed alterative.
And since the bulk of those opposed to her deal within her own party are Brexiteers, the Prime Minister is therefore now playing up the prospect of No Brexit, rather than No Deal, in order to win support tomorrow. That’s why she’s delivering a speech this morning in Stoke, rather than, say, Richmond-upon-Thames.
Grieve and Boles are moving to exploit this chaos of rumour and counter-rumour, plus the likelihood of the Commons voting soon on a series of options after May’s deal is defeated tomorrow. A no confidence motion may be debated between the two. It is very unlikely indeed to succeed. So the Commons would move on soon to those options, including a second referendum and Norway Plus.
Imagine a game of chess combined with a game of chicken, if you can. Because that’s what you’re seeing. Now prepare for your imagination to give up altogether. Because into the chicken and the chess has been thrown a wild card – the Speaker. Some of the palaver about what he will do – the so-called “coup” – is being pushed by Number Ten, as part of the game. But the prospect of him unilaterally rewriting Commons rules, if he can, to delay or revoke Brexit is real enough, as we saw last week.
Finally, let’s stand back from what we don’t know to ponder what we do know. Which is this: for all the bluff and counter-bluff, there is no sign of May persuading most rebel Tory MPs to switch and support her deal. This site believes lists of them elsewhere are at the permissive end of the scale, and has published a more conservative one (this is ConservativeHome, after all). It currently lists 71 Tory MPs opposed, plus 27 probables and ten possibles. Some of these will abstain rather than vote against the Government. Others will switch. But not a single MP on it, as far as we know, has said that he’ll do so. We have to date eliminated four “probables”. So that’s four public switchers out of a total of 109 Conservative MPs. May’s push to turn her rebels is failing.
“Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,” our greatest playwright continues. “The which in every language I pronounce, / Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.” Stand by for more. As Daniel Hannan likes to say, nothing escapes Shakespeare.