Business needs some certainty around Brexit. And that applies as much to giant multi-national corporations based outside the UK as to indigenous British firms.
Which is why my boss packed me off to London again last week. "You’re still connected", she told me, "so find out what the hell’s going on."
And for the last week that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, talking to people in Westminster I used to work with and people whose opinions I trust.
What has surprised me is the degree of consensus I’m getting from all sides of the political divide about the likely outcome. In essence it boils down to two scenarios.
In the first scenario Theresa May gets her deal through Parliament at the end of the month. It’ll be a tight squeak because the hard right (and maybe the DUP too) continue to oppose the deal especially as the EU is unlikely to offer more than a limited clarification of the Irish backstop.
Victory is secured by up to 50 Labour MPs supporting the deal. They do so because the trade unions, now distinctly worried by the consequences for manufacturing jobs of a ‘no deal’ or continued uncertainty, put pressure on the Labour leadership to allow a ‘vote of conscience’. But also because Corbyn is promised some meaningful concessions around the future relationship with Europe including on issues like worker’s rights.
That’s important particularly as it’s become clear to Corbyn that Tories will not collapse the government and call a general election. Quite the opposite in fact.
In scenario two Theresa May loses the vote and resigns. The Conservative government requests a 20 month delay to Brexit, arguing that a new prime minister and cabinet will need to reset British intentions given the catastrophic failure of the deal on the table.
My connections believe that the EU will reluctantly concede this option, viewing a no-deal scenario as an even less favourable outcome.
With a fixed term Parliament there is little Corbyn can do to force an early election so he might regard trading for influence as a second best outcome.
As to the next Tory leader, who would covet the poisoned chalice?
Well, if March 2019 becomes November 2020, then quite a few possibly, including all the usual suspects: Johnson, Gove, Rees-Mogg, Rudd, Javid, Hunt and maybe Raab. If I was having a small wager I might put it on a Gove/Hunt ticket.
But if I’m really sticking my neck on the line, I’m telling my boss that the May deal will squeak it by a tiny majority and the midnight oil will be burning in Whitehall right up to the departure date on March 29.
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