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Number 10 battens down the hatches as Brexit tornado hits Tories

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It was a brutal Commons session for the prime minister that left loyal members of the government in no doubt she does not have the numbers to pass the “meaningful vote” on the Brexit deal next month.

An awful lot is being invested in the power of some pictures of the French president and German chancellor shaking hands with the PM and signing off a deal in Brussels next Sunday.

It looks to be a rather heroic presumption to think that such a sight will greatly change the arithmetic.

The mathematical problem she faces is not that there are a bunch of her own Brexiteers who hate this high alignment withdrawal agreement.

The problem is that the DUP has decided it cannot stomach a backstop that increases some food and animal checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and some influence of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the province.

Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s leader in the Commons, told the PM she “clearly doesn’t listen” and that her deal would lead to the break-up of the Union.

But even that said, the deal might have passed with the help of the Opposition.

The real news is that is now assuredly not going to happen, with Jeremy Corbyn making that clear in the Commons, and then reiterating not just that Labour would vote against the deal, but writing that “campaigning for a public vote” was on the table.

And then, specifically those Labour MPs who have shown some sympathy for the idea of voting for the PM’s deal – such as Ruth Smeeth and Kate Hoey – sound rather unsympathetic.

It has not helped that the government has failed thus far to brief the unionist movement.

I asked the PM at Number 10 if she was not in denial about these numbers.

“This is not an easy thing to do,” she told me.

“This is a complex negotiation.”

Her indefatigability is impressive.

Three brutal hours answering mainly hostile questions in the Commons. A press conference. And all after a five-hour cabinet meeting, and, subsequently, several resignations.

But the venom in the organised attack from her Brexiteer wing must have hurt.

Jacob Rees-Mogg attempted the eurosceptic version of a Geoffrey Howe moment by confronting her, accusing her of dishonesty over her intentions on Brexit.

“What my Right Honourable Friend says and what my Right Honourable Friend does, no longer matches,” he said, asking her why he should not send in a letter of no confidence to the chair of the 1922 committee.

Two hours later he had done so, as did the European Research Group (ERG) vice chair, former Brexit minister Steve Baker.

Almost everybody in Westminster expect the letters to stack up to 48. But the announcement had not been made by Sir Graham Brady by nightfall.

Number 10 battened down the hatches, sending out lists of MPs for friendly ministers to cajole into backing the PM.

But quietly the Conservative MPs pondered whether the ERG may not quite be as powerful as it had claimed.

“The ERG becomes an irrelevance if they can’t produce the numbers,” said one Remainer.

But if they do get the numbers, he suspects there will be more than 100 votes against her leadership.

Other Tory Remainers questioned the strategy of Brexiteers, knowing the fundamental parliamentary maths won’t change.

The only rationale for this that they could see was to take control of the process and prevent parliament stopping a “no-deal” Brexit. That would split the Conservative Party.

The Brexit tornado has hit the Conservative Party.

No one knows exactly what it will spit out over the next fortnight.

(c) Sky News 2018: Number 10 battens down the hatches as Brexit tornado hits Tories