Those of us who are either old enough to remember John Major’s passage of the Maastricht Treaty through an increasingly Eurosceptic Tory-majority Parliament (not me), or are obsessive enough about politics to know about it (that would be me) know that he tied it to what was essentially a confidence vote in his government.
We have heard in recent days from Tory whips that the Conservatives can either vote for the final European Union Withdrawal Bill or “face an election”. This might be spectacle, and most probably is, but there might be some wisdom in doing this.
Major’s initial defeat of passing the Bill resulted in his calling a vote of confidence in his government, which would have at the time not constitutionally particularly meant anything. However, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act provides for this precise mechanism; a government can table a motion of no confidence in itself and would essentially be able to tie this to the vote by whipping accordingly.
The latest polling is suggesting that 66% of Conservative voters want Mrs May’s “polished turd” of a deal – the only one possible, as Leavers were warned – passed by their representatives. If Tory ERGs cry “betrayal” at May, they only need look at their own voters, who would now be suggesting that they are betraying their own voters.
If May were to present the Act, and, if defeated (as all arithmetic is currently pointing towards), tie the passage of the Bill to an avoidance of a no confidence deal, then she might be onto something. If we all remember just last year, May had a huge poll lead over Corbyn, and yet, where are we now? Would these people risk losing their jobs? I doubt it.
The second option is that Parliament fails to pass the legislation and that out of the chaos emerges an extension of Article 50 – something which the European Union would, of course, agree to, given that they do not want any member state to leave. Under these circumstances, the deal could be returned to the people in the form of a second referendum; accepting May’s deal or remaining within the European Union.
All bets are off right now. I’ve just some popcorn in the cupboard waiting for the day of the vote.