There are sufficient sympathetic MPs to pass the key Lords amendments into law. What will determine the government’s success or failure is tactical considerations.
Notwithstanding their support for the Lord Hailsham “meaningful vote” amendment and the Lord Kerr customs union amendment, there is some level of sympathy for Number 10’s argument that Theresa May should be given a clean slate to go to the Brussels summit at the end of the month.
A subplot of last week’s shenanigans over the Irish backstop was that the PM had been privately arguing that it also offered some comfort for such rebels.
Also, the promise to bring back the trade and customs bills by the middle of July offers, say the whips, a more appropriate moment for MPs to express concerns about the shape of the future relationship.
If those were the only considerations, one can begin to see why some see the rebellions petering out.
Rebels argue their numbers can still deliver. The welcome words of support for Number 10 from Amber Rudd at the weekend do not change the maths – she was part of the payroll vote last time anyway.
One former minister said it was “all very fluid” and “we may have to use our leverage this week”. Why? Because of increasing talk that Tory Brexiteers are merely waiting until the passage of the EU Withdrawal Bill before really causing trouble for the government’s current plans.
Certainly, they have been biting their tongue on issues they are unhappy about – such as the backstop. Some Tory Brexiteer MPs believe that once the EU Withdrawal Bill has passed, then their bargaining power increases dramatically, as they can navigate the UK to “no deal” without legal anarchy.
A loyal supporter of the PM expressed concern that Mrs May was “leaving it to others” to make the case. “She needs to start leading from the front,” they added.
The first key flashpoint will be the “meaningful vote” amendment on Tuesday afternoon, which the government will try to remove and then replace with a weaker promise for the government to make a statement within 28 days.
The current text of the bill, as amended by the Lords, gives parliament considerable powers should it vote down a Brexit deal in autumn and various milestones be missed.
Late on Monday night, Dominic Grieve tabled a compromise amendment on the meaningful vote. He and a number of his colleagues will vote against the government unless it accepts this amendment, though Nicky Morgan now appears to be with the government.
The government already compromised on customs by essentially encouraging and accepting the idea of reporting back to the Commons by the end of October on a “customs arrangement”. This might be referred to as the “meaningless” vote.
It has no policy implication other than giving the PM a freer hand ahead of the EU summit. How else to get Nicky Morgan and Jacob Rees-Mogg to sign the same amendment? It is one more shot at getting something out of the EU Council at the end of the month.
That should certainly be enough for the vote due late afternoon on Wednesday.
Labour have their own headaches on the amendment on joining the EEA, and have tried to limit a substantial split in its ranks with an amendment on the “internal market”.
So still much to play for on Tuesday. The rebels have compromised on customs. How far are they willing to push on a meaningful vote? They might not get another chance.