Sulky silence and hard stares as May fails to conjure up magic
With little support for Brexit deal, PM hints at concessions on future relationship with EU
Chastened by their failure to organise a coup against Theresa May, the leaders of the Brexiteer European Research Group (ERG) sat in sulky silence during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday. But May found little support for her Brexit deal elsewhere in the chamber, and the very first question was from one of her own backbenchers asking her to tear it up and start again.
The prime minister framed the choice for MPs as one between her deal and the risk of no Brexit, and she sought to sweeten the agreement with the prospect of more concessions in the political declaration on the future relationship between Britain and the EU. Chief among these is language promising to explore technological solutions to the Border as an alternative to the backstop, which Downing Street hopes will persuade some leading Brexiteers to back the Brexit deal.
These technological solutions – known as maximum facilitation or “max fac” to Brexiteers and as “magical thinking” to everyone else – are not in operation anywhere in the world. But it is in the nature of magic that you believe it if you want to, and some Conservative MPs want to believe in a technological solution to the Border if it gives them an excuse to vote for May’s Brexit deal.
The illusionist’s art is at work too on the confidence and supply agreement between the Conservatives and the DUP after the unionist MPs abstained this week on amendments to a finance Bill, in clear breach of the agreement.
“The DUP agrees to support the government on all motions of confidence; and on the queen’s speech; the budget; finance bills; money bills, supply and appropriation legislation and estimates,” it says.
But the DUP maintains that because the government didn’t actually lose any of the votes (because some Labour MPs were not there) the agreement is intact, and a Downing Street spokesman endorsed that interpretation on Wednesday.
“It’s our position that the confidence and supply arrangement is still in effect,” he said.
The spokesman also ruled out attempting to claw back any of the £1 billion the government promised for Northern Ireland in return for the DUP’s support. None of this stopped the DUP glaring across at May during prime minister’s questions and nodding enthusiastically as Jeremy Corbyn denounced the backstop as creating a regulatory border down the Irish Sea.