Brexit is back in the Commons next week. As I write in The Sun this morning, two of the big questions are: what will Eurosceptic Tories accept in terms of changes to the backstop and will the Cooper amendment pass.
A document circulating among Tory Eurosceptics sets out what MPs should and shouldn’t regard as a meaningful change to the backstop. It warns that assurances from the EU Council would be ‘worthless’ and that changes to the political declaration would be ‘not legally binding’. It says that an interpretative instrument would have, ‘Some legal value’ but ‘would be a face-saver that would be legally pretty meaningless.’
Interestingly, though, it suggests that the addition of a new protocol, rather than reopening the withdrawal agreement, could be sufficient. It says, ‘Protocols are legally binding. Dependant on wording a Protocol could be added giving the UK a right to exit all or some of the Backstop’.
But whatever change Geoffrey Cox can negotiate to the backstop won’t be ready before Tuesday, so the Commons will vote on the Cooper amendment on Wednesday. I am told that unless Oliver Letwin, one of the former Tory ministers pushing this plan, has ‘got his numbers catastrophically wrong, it’ll pass’.
One of the reasons why is that May won’t reassure those ministers who have gone to see her about this issue that she won’t do no deal. One of them tells me, ‘I’m longing to be reassured. She won’t do it’. I suspect that this failure to offer ministers any reassurance is what has prompted this morning's extraordinary article by Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark.
Among those ministers who have been to see May to warn about no-deal there is a divide about what to do if May is close to getting a deal. One tells me, ‘If she’s 90 percent of the way there, it’ll be enough’. But others disagree, warning ‘there’s no credibility in that’ and that ‘by the end of next week, we’re in no deal territory’.
One Secretary of state warns that ‘It is impossible to carry on this track without having a smash’.