Theresa May’s hand was forced, but Brexit votes could work out for her

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The prime minister is getting good at making statements she does not want to make on issues she does not necessarily agree with. 

After all, Theresa May is the leader who will take the UK out of the European Union after campaigning for exactly the opposite.

And it seems the practice has paid off, at least for the moment, as once again she looks to have avoided ministerial resignations and given herself yet more time to find a way through the Brexit talks.

Announcing her decision to put the next steps into the hands of Parliament, a packed House of Commons listened intently to her plan.

If a vote on her new deal fails in March, MPs will be forced to decide whether to leave the union without a deal or extend Article 50 and prolong the process.

“It must have been a very difficult statement for the prime minister to make,” Nicky Morgan offered afterwards. Mrs May just about avoided rolling her eyes.

For a leader so focused on delivering Brexit – she refers to it in private as a sacred duty – handing over control to MPs was the one thing she really wanted to avoid.

In reality, her hand was forced by a group of senior cabinet ministers, who this morning were teetering on the brink of walking out of her government in a bid to avoid no-deal.

But the decision to give MPs the power and responsibility to decide what happens if they do not back her deal could yet work out in her favour.

There is no real majority for anything in parliament except for avoiding no-deal, and lots of deeply entrenched views on the alternatives held by smaller groups – often overlapping party lines.

At some point MPs will have to decide on something, even if they have to hold their noses to do it.

Offering a real choice if her deal fails is likely to focus minds.

For those who want to leave the EU the prospect of a delay without the threat of no-deal could be a risk too far.

That is the group Mrs May has consistently tried to win over because she knows with them on board she has a majority and a chance of holding her fragile party together.

The DUP appear increasingly to favour a deal and one MP this morning said “it won’t take much” in terms of changes to the deal to secure their support in the House.

Others in the European Research Group want to find a way to salvage an agreement and move on to talks about the future relationship where they have been promised more control.

Even Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP whose amendment could have been the vehicle for a cabinet revolt, appeared open to Mrs May’s plan if she could secure a promise it would be binding.

MPs want to move forward but trust is in short supply and time is running out.

Will giving parliament control strengthen Mrs May’s hand or leave her without a deal and facing the prospect of an extension with nothing left to negotiate?

(c) Sky News 2019: Theresa May’s hand was forced, but Brexit votes could work out for her

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