How can Theresa May save her Chequers blueprint from being torn to pieces in the Commons with only a majority of 12?
She faces opposition from Labour Remainers, Tory hard-Brexiteers and Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench.
A series of votes next week will offer some clues to how Parliament might eventually divide.
MPs are due to vote on two Customs Union amendments put down by Tory soft-Brexit backers led by Dominic Grieve. As Labour agree with them, the numbers exist to defeat the Government. However, Grieve’s group may choose to stay their hand to give May a few months grace to try to sell her compromise to EU leaders.
Separately, Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has put down four “wrecking amendments”. For example, one would forbid the UK from collecting tariffs for Brussels unless EU countries also collect tariffs for the UK, which is incompatible with the Chequers accord.
These votes will reveal how many Brexiteers are prepared to rebel, with estimates ranging from 30 to 60 or more. They will also reveal whether Labour is prepared to go into the same voting lobby with Rees-Mogg — the poster boy of a hard Brexit and Eton privilege — just to damage the Government.
Rees-Mogg cannot win unless Labour’s frontbench join him. His best hope is to make noisy headlines about the biggest Tory revolt since the Immigration Bill in 2014 (when 86 MPs backed an amendment crafted by Dominic Raab, now the Brexit Secretary). Without Labour, it will be hollow. There is talk of these amendments being postponed.
The overall picture is that the soft-Brexit group is the one with real teeth. I am told that at Chequers, Chief Whip Julian Smith reminded colleagues that Grieve defeated the Government on the “decisive vote” issue in December, when nine rebelled, and could do so again.
The PM has few choices left. She needs to convince EU leaders that she has no more room for concessions, which the resignations of Davis and Johnson may encourage. If her blueprint survives the talks in Brussels, she will then have to secure the bulk of Tory MPs, including the Grieve group.
At that point, she could deliver a “take it or leave it” ultimatum to wavering Tories and Labour Remainers.
Ultimately it may come down to whether Labour Remainers can stomach voting with the Moggites to make Corbyn PM.