Now the first rule of politics kicks in. Start counting. Not the number of words in the 585 page Withdrawal Agreement or the 7 page political declaration but the number of MPs who will vote Yay or Nay, writes Denis Macshane
Already London and Brussels are contradicting each other. Michel Barnier says that EU citizens can live, work, retire in the UK and vice versa for British expats on the continent while in London defenders of the deal say it means the end of freedom of movement.
For the EU27 the four freedoms of movement of capital, goods, services and people are indivisible. If British business and politicians insist they can start discriminating against EU citizens by imposing work and residence permits the claims from Mrs May that there will be full access for firms in Britain to sell into Europe will simply explode.
The same internal contradictions mean years and years of negotiation if ever the ambitions listed about the future UK-EU relations are to be set into an international treaty then a Brexternity of talks, rows, political revolts in the UK, and demands from producer and exporting lobbies in the EU27 countries will create headlines well into the 2020s.
But can Mrs May win backing from the Commons? One minister has resigned saying he cannot accept the deal because it allow for different arrangements in Northern Ireland. The paradox is that the fundamentalist protestant political sect the Democratic Unionist Party refuses to accept the laws of the UK on gay and women’s rights.
The DUP is homophobe and anti-women as well Europhobe so Mrs May will have to live without their 10 votes.
How many of her 315 Tory MPs will back the deal? There is an alliance against nature between passionate Leavers and fervent Remainers. The strong Leavers like Boris Johnson will vote against the agreement and insist on a No Deal crash out of the EU is the best course.
Another hard line anti-European cabinet minister, Dominic Raab, has also resigned. He has been Brexit minister since July but sidelined by the Downing Street who entrusted the negotiations to a senior official, Ollie Robbins, who treated Raab with indifference bordering on contempt.
If the alliance against the deal strengthens it means destroying Mrs May to elect a new PM with of course Johnson in the front-line of wannabe replacement PMs.
On the other side of the divide there are Remainers who also want to defeat the May-Barnier deal in order to provoke a great political crisis that can only be solved by a new referendum. Tony Blair is the most articulate exponent of this politique du pire – the old Trotskyist line of the worse the better – the only way to bring about fundamental political change is to show that normal politics in unworkable.
For supporters of a new referendum it is only be huge defeat of the deal that can open the way to re-voting the 2016 Brexit result. Their line won support from the Swiss political journalist Andres Allemand who explained in a UK newspaper, the Independent, how in Switzerland it was normal to vote more than once on a difficult issue. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/brexit-latest-swiss-model-theresa-may-switzerland-second-referendum-eu-a8633416.html
The official Labour Party position under its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who made up his mind in the 1970s that Europe was a capitalist plot of no relevance to his socialist ambitions is also to oppose the deal. He hopes that if it is defeated a general election will then follow and Labour takes office. But he has only 257 MPs and most of the other 393 MPs are not turkeys voting for Thanksgiving. Few MPs, Tory and Labour, give credence to the idea of a new election.
In the middle are hundreds of MPs who do not make headlines, don’t get quoted or interviewed and are torn between party loyalties, support or dislike of their chiefs, local pressure from party activists, worries about jobs and the economic future.
No-one knows yet how they will vote. The London press coverage of politics is based on maybe at best 15-20 MPs in each party. Will Tory anti-Europeans take their lead from the most intellectual of the Tory Europhobes, Michael Gove, who is in the cabinet. In a stormy 5 hour cabinet meeting Gove said they should accept the deal as getting out of the EU is the priority. Once no longer an EU Treaty member Britain can do what it likes. Perfidious Albion comes back to life.
One senior Tory Brexiter, a member of the so-called European Research Group of anti-EU MPs headed by Jacob Rees Mogg, told me that he and many of his colleagues would not provoke a crisis in December by voting down the deal. “We will accept the deal and soon after we will get rid of Theresa May and elect a new leader and prime minister who will complete a full Brexit.”
On the Labour side, the whips privately say they do not know where all Labour MPs are. Most will see the vote as a chance to defeat Mrs May. Some have called for a new referendum but there are only 9 Tory MPs signed up for a new vote so it is not clear that a majority in the Commons can be be found for a new referendum.
However some Labour MPs have said they cannot vote for anything that destroys jobs and a No Deal crash out guarantees a major economic crisis with many foreign firms like all the Japanese auto companies saying they will have to relocate to the continent.
Tory whips may try and bribe one or two elderly Labour MPs planning to retire at the next election by offering a seat in the House of Lords with its £300 a day allowance for the rest of their lives.
But no-one can say with honesty what the final parliamentary vote will be. Never has British politics been so polarised. Never has the quality of political leadership in Britain been so weak. The Brexit saga is far from over.
The Author, Denis Macshane is a former Minister of Europe for the UK.