As we head towards the parliamentary vote on the withdrawal agreement, things are hotting-up! Last week the government has faced three defeats in parliament, the worst series of defeats a government has experienced in 40 years and unity amongst members of the cabinet is starting to fray. The country is still bitterly divided, but is there light at the end of the tunnel or has the good-ship Theresa finally hit the rocks after this tumultuous week?
The many faces of Geoffrey Cox
If I was a poker player, then Geoffrey Cox would be my ideal opponent. As Sir Keir Starmer MP read out his opening address, accusing the government of "simply playing for time in the hope that this [contempt motion] ends up in the long grass", he sat there, squirming and praying, with his head slung back on the front benches, contemplating what was to come next. He didn't have to wait long.
The flurry of activity that followed the debate was unprecedented. The government's amendment which would refer the matter to the Privileges Committee was narrowly defeated by four votes. Next up was the contempt vote, which the government also lost. Finally Dominic Grieve MP, the perennial thorn in the side of the government, tabled an amendment which would give power back to parliament if Theresa May's deal is defeated on Tuesday. The government lost this vote as well, marking the worst series of defeats for a government in over 40 years - their third defeat being by a margin of 22 votes. To put this into context, Gordon Brown only lost three votes during his time as prime Minister.
Following the votes on Tuesday, the government published the Brexit legal advice in full on Wednesday to much fanfare and scrutiny. The controversial Irish backstop agreement was a key focus, particularly the paragraph which highlighted that the UK would "endure indefinitely" in the backstop until a new long-term trading relationship between the UK and EU had been put in a place. This would mean that the UK would be beholden to EU law for the duration of their stay within the backstop, confirming the worst fears of Brexiteers that the UK would remain a rule-taker for an, as yet, unspecified amount of time.
It's time to pull the vote
There were murmurings within parliament earlier this week regarding the possibility of the vote on the withdrawal agreement being pulled, with Philip Davies MP urging No. 10 communications chief Robbie Gibb to "just pull the vote" rather than crash to defeat next week. Following the government's abysmal Tuesday, senior cabinet ministers have started to get jittery, with rumours circulating that Gavin Williamson MP, as well as other members of the cabinet, are pressing for a delay in the vote. This is in the hope that support can be built for the deal, which has increased, albeit slowly, amongst members of the general public.
Third time's the charm?
With every government slip-up, the clamour for a 'People's Vote' increases, with Election Maps UK indicating that 120 MPs are in favour of a peoples vote. P arliament, however, is split, with around 180 MPs supporting May's deal, 150 supporting Labour's policy, 120 MPs supporting a hard Brexit and around 50 MPs willing a soft Brexit. Two years after the referendum result in 2016, members of the public are still equally as divided, with a YouGov poll for The Times finding that 49% of the general public believe that we were wrong to leave the EU and 38% of people believing that we were right. YouGov have also conducted some fascinating polling into a projected three-way referendum vote. In the first round it is projected that Remain would gain 46.2% of the vote, May's deal would achieve 27.1% of the vote and no deal would receive 26.7% of the vote, meaning that no deal would be eliminated for the second round of voting. In this scenario YouGov have Remain winning by the smallest of margins over the May deal, 50% to 49.9%. A knife edge! What's clear then is that divisions, not only in parliament, but across the country, still run deep and it's certainly not clear that May's deal, no-deal or another referendum would heal this divide.
What's the matter with EU?
While attention has been focused on the action in parliament, there have been developments within the European Union regarding the state of Brexit. On Tuesday, the advocate general of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered a verdict that the UK should be able to unilaterally cancel its withdrawal from the EU. This provisional advice was reached after a group of Scottish politicians asked the court whether the UK can call off Brexit without the consent of other member states. The ECJ will formally rule on whether Britain can unilaterally cancel Brexit on Monday, ahead of the MPs' vote on Theresa May's deal next Tuesday. This would potentially further damage her chances of a victory, as it shows that there are more paths out there than just her deal or no-deal.
The EU was also seen to back-track on its threat that Margaret Thatcher's hard-won rebate would be lost, even if the UK cancelled Brexit. The bloc's budget chief Gunther Oettinger stated that "the rebate, which was negotiated by Mrs Thatcher - is something which is permanent and needs to be respected." Whether this is a sign that EU is worried by the threat of a no-deal Brexit, or a move to entice the UK to reject Brexit entirely, it will surely act as a boost for UK Remainers.
As we head into next week, it seems increasingly unlikely that the government's deal will secure the approval of the Commons next Tuesday. The last seven days have seen the government held in contempt while parliament has reasserted its power and afforded itself greater control over the future direction of Brexit. The next week promises plenty of political drama but it's unclear how many answers we will have by the end of it.
This week has also seen another disintegration of sorts, with Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall leaving the UK Independence Party (UKIP) alongside its leader in Scotland and a Welsh MEP. The party that gave rise to the EU referendum is being torn apart as its dream hangs by a thread and the case for another referendum gathers weight.
Sarah Jones, managing director, public affairs practice