Why Theresa May and MPs will move towards softer Brexit
FT leader writer Sebastian Payne talks to three MPs about Brexit - Anne-Marie Trevelyan, James Cleverly and Vince Cable - and discusses the possibility of 'no deal'; continuing support for Prime Minister Theresa May's beleaguered deal; and the possibility of a second referendum.
Filmed and produced by Josh de la Mare
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It's been one of the most dramatic weeks in living memory in Westminster. On Tuesday, Theresa May faced a historic defeat for her Brexit package. But 24 hours later she survived a no-confidence vote in her government, where the very same Conservative rebels backed her administration. So the prime minister is safe, her administration is safe, what happens to Brexit next?
Well, Downing Street are having a series of talks with other party leaders to try and see what kind of cross-party consensus they can forge to get a deal through the Commons before that crucial day of March 29th. But what do MPs think is going to happen next? Let's ask James Cleverly, deputy chairman of the Conservative party, and a firm backer of the prime minister.
The deal the prime minister put forward was rejected by the House of Commons, which inevitably means that the prime minister's now got to explore what deal will get through the House of Commons. She said she's committed to respecting the referendum result for us to leave the European Union, so she's got a job to do, which is to thrash out a deal. But also, MPs have got a job to do, which is thinking seriously about what they would accept.
But time is running out. It's not that long until Brexit day, now. And this whole thing is just eating up all that time that could be used for no-deal preparations.
Well, the no-deal preparations are happening in parallel to the parliamentary process. The government is getting on with that to make sure that if that's what happens - and basically, no one really wants that to happen - but if it does, then we're ready for it. But also, what we have to do is recognise that that time deadline forces the pressure on us.
So the government is pushing forwards, but what do the Brexiters think? Anne-Marie Trevelyan is a Conservative MP from the north of England, who resigned from the government over Theresa May's positions.
We must make sure that in leaving the EU, we can have our own trade deals, for instance. That we are not under the oversight of EU jurisdiction in future.
What if the prime minister, though, decides to shift towards, say, a permanent customs union?
Well, that would fail the, can we do trade as a third nation, both with the EU as one organisation, and with the US, with China, with India, with any other company. We wouldn't be able to do that in practical terms, because those countries would not sign up to a trade deal with us, because we would effectively be having the same trade rules as the EU.
Do you think the chances of a no-deal Brexit have increased, and are you still happy with that outcome if it was to come about?
Well, so as we get closer to the 29th of March, clearly if a full comprehensive withdrawal agreement can't be found, then we will have to move through that leaving the EU date, which is what the legislation demands that we do if we haven't signed something up. But a lot of the logistics to avoid the terror stories of crashing out are being put together. So the leader of the House updated us today, that over half of the statutory instruments required are in full process. So we're ploughing through them. If we all have to work weekends to help get those through, I'm sure we all will.
And on the other end of the Brexit spectrum, the main campaigners are increasingly hopeful that exit will be delayed or not happen at all. Sir Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, thinks that's where the debate is heading now.
At the moment there isn't a majority of MPs for a people's vote. There is a substantial number, and I think it's growing. But I think the crucial point is that Theresa May and the government will itself accept, probably at the last moment, that they really have no alternative. At the moment, the deal she's negotiated isn't going anywhere, doesn't have support in parliament. If she goes to the country with it, and offers the alternative of remaining, she's got a 50/50 chance of winning, and might well do so. So I think, actually, that is a plausible outcome.
And you're confident, if there was another referendum, Remain would be victorious?
I am confident, but I realise it's a risk. I think it's probable, rather than possible, that Article 50 will be delayed. It may indeed be cancelled altogether. I think the whole idea that the end of March is going to be some glorious independence day - that's now becoming a sick joke.
So no one is quite sure what's going to happen to Brexit over the next few days and weeks. What I do think is that if a Brexit deal is eventually going to pass through the House of Commons, that is going to be softer than the one Theresa May put forward this week... some kind of customs union, or single market addition to what the Prime Minister has proposed.
If that does happen, it could create some schisms or even splits within both the Conservative and Labour parties. Or we could still spill over into another general election or second referendum. If either of those two things happen, then the high drama we've seen in Westminster this week appears to be far from over.