Robert Peston Robert Peston

Theresa May will soon face the decision of her life over Brexit

The Prime Minister does have a strategy to prevent what she sees as the chaos of a no-deal Brexit. The flaw in it is that the strategy probably has a shelf life of just over one week. Because her strategy is to persuade MPs to back her version of leaving the EU in a vote on 15 or 16 January, and in the words of one of her senior ministers:

“I will be shot for telling you this but we are going to lose that vote”.

So what then? Well, amazingly, no one around her – not her ministers, not her officials – seem to know. Why not?

“She won’t tell us” says a minister. “We go to see her. We give her our ideas about what to do next. She listens politely. She even asks questions. But none of us have a clue whether she agrees, whether she is persuaded. She gives us no hints. It is quite remarkable”.

Of course her officials – her chief of staff Gavin Barwell, the cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill – are working on contingency plans for what should happen if (when) the vote is lost. That is their duty. But they too have no idea whether the PM will actually do what they suggest, as and when the time comes. In the words of one of their colleagues “they are in a silo, and the PM is outside the silo in one of her own”.

So with less than 12 weeks till Brexit day on 29 March, it is all a bit odd and unsettling. In respect of what in practice happens next, much will hinge on the margin of her defeat in that vote. When the vote was originally supposed to be held before Christmas, it was originally thought the PM would lose by 200 votes or more.

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