James Forsyth

When will Theresa May bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to the Commons?

When will Theresa May bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to the Commons?
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Theresa May has one last hope for getting her Brexit deal through. As I say in The Sun this morning, she can bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to parliament and try and get MPs to vote for it. Not John Bercow, or anyone else, can stop her from using this as a fourth attempt to get her deal through.

But if MPs defeat it again, then Mrs May will have nothing left. If the WAB was voted down, then a new Queen’s Speech would be required to bring it back—and Mrs May would struggle to pass one of those.

This is why there’s such intense debate about when to bring this bill to the Commons. Number 10 is more gung-ho than the Brexit Department which worries about the consequences of bringing the bill and losing it. One ally of the Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay tells me that his view is that ‘there’s no point in introducing this until you have a chance of winning.’

Some in Number 10 still hold out hope that an arrangement might be reached with Labour that would allow a vote on the bill before the European Elections. One Cabinet Minister says that May is prepared to make concessions to get a deal: ‘People are underestimating how prepared she is to do it. She thinks the future of the party is better served by her doing it and going down with the ship’.

But most are sceptical that these talks will come to anything. If a deal with Labour can’t be done, what are the other options?

Well, one idea being discussed is that the bill might be published before the European Elections but that any vote on it would be delayed until after the Commons has held a series of votes, which the government would accept to be bound by, on the various Brexit options. But the problem with this is that last time indicative votes were held, nothing got a majority.

Another group believe that the best plan is a straight vote on the bill, but not until after the European Elections. They believe that after a set of election results which are bound to be disastrous for the Tories, Mrs May will be under pressure to say what she is going to do next—and bringing a vote on the WAB provides her with an answer.

Some optimists hope that if Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party has made big gains from Labour as well as the Tories in the European Elections, then there might be more MPs on the Labour side who just want to get Britain out of the EU.

A vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill really would be Theresa May’s last roll of the dice. I understand that Downing Street have considered doing it half a dozen times now, only to back away for fear of losing. But this limbo can’t go on much longer. At some point soon, Mrs May is going to have to do it.