May’s Brexit Plan B Still Keeps Her Dependent on Opposition Votes

(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May’s Brexit Plan B turns out to be a re-run of her Plan A -- seeking European Union concessions on the deal she’s already negotiated with Brussels. But even if she succeeds, it’s not at all clear she could get the modified terms through Parliament.

Here’s how the numbers stack up.

May’s Brexit Plan B Still Keeps Her Dependent on Opposition Votes

May lost the vote on her Brexit deal last week 432-202, with 118 largely Euroskeptic Conservative lawmakers and all 10 members of the Democratic Unionist Party -- who are supposed to be her allies -- opposing her.

She has two options to find votes next time: Convincing members of her own side not to rebel, or seeking backing from the main opposition Labour Party.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has expressed more interest in another election than in saving May’s Brexit deal, which makes it risky for the prime minister to try to win his party’s support. And tacking toward Labour’s position would alienate some Tories.

May’s Brexit Plan B Still Keeps Her Dependent on Opposition Votes

It looks no more straightforward for May to try to split Labour votes off from Corbyn because to do so, she’d probably have to offer a second referendum. That would definitely outrage lawmakers on her own side, and might not even win her more than 100 votes from Labour.

She’s therefore left trying to get Conservatives and the DUP back on board.

If she managed to get all 128 internal opponents back, she’d win 330-304.

Tory Rebels

The problem for May is at least nine of the Tories who opposed the deal did so not because they’re seeking a purer form of Brexit, but because they oppose it and want a second referendum. So they’re unlikely to be swayed by any EU concessions, even if May can get them.

Excluding those pro-EU Tories leaves the prime minister sitting on a tighter margin of 321-313.

So May would still need to retain the support of the three Labour members of Parliament and three independents who backed her last week. If just four of those switched sides, May would be looking at a tie -- giving Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow the deciding vote. He’s supposed to support the status quo, which would probably mean rejecting May’s deal.

May’s Brexit Plan B Still Keeps Her Dependent on Opposition Votes

There are at least a couple of potential wildcards in these calculations.

Some Labour lawmakers could be willing to back May in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit, so if the vote looked close, they could try to tip it in the prime minister’s favor. But equally, 57 Tories who have made a public commitment to vote against May’s deal, and some of them will find it very hard to back down.

Another is if a no-deal Brexit, the preference of many Conservative Brexiteers, ceased to be an option -- several pro-EU lawmakers are attempting to do just that. In those circumstances, the Tory hardliners could find they preferred May’s deal to no Brexit at all.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.