Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: May negotiates Tory ceasefire and retains control of Brexit... just

Prime Minister Theresa May speaking about the Government's Brexit deal, in the House of Commons, London.
Prime Minister Theresa May speaking about the Government's Brexit deal, in the House of Commons, London.
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

It's a sign of how bad things are for the Government that yesterday was a good day at the office for Theresa May.

Only one defeat in seven votes, and a slim but significant majority behind her on the amendment that mattered.

Plan B was certainly a lot more palatable than Plan A to the House of Commons. That there was a ceasefire of sorts in the Conservative Party was also clear.

The DUP played no small role in convincing those on the extreme wing of the European Research Group to support Sir Graham Brady's amendment. Seeing the party in a peace-making and bridge-building role is not one to which its opponents in Northern Ireland are accustomed.

Last night must be judged a tremendous success for Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds.

It's only days ago that the Prime Minister was adamant on the absolute necessity of the backstop and the fact her deal couldn't be renegotiated. Now she is going back to the EU to do just that.

They will tell her to get stuffed, Remainers probably correctly say. The immediate response from European Council president Donald Tusk certainly didn't suggest that there's room to manoeuvre.

"The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation," he said.

But Brexiteers believe that despite the EU's hard line now, it will "evolve its position" as March 29 draws ominously closer. Don't judge the likelihood for compromise by Tusk's statement, they insist. This one will go to the wire.

Remainers are equally adamant that Brexiteer Tories and the DUP are wrong.

"They're living in cloud cuckoo land if they believe there will be any change from Brussels," a Dublin source said last night.

But, for the moment, Mrs May certainly has room to breathe. The EU's argument that there was no point dealing with her in terms of working out a compromise as she couldn't command a majority in the Commons has been weakened.

Last night's series of votes won't be an immediate game-changer in the Brexit battle, but they do mean that the Prime Minister can go back to Brussels with much more authority than she previously had.

The defeat of Yvette Cooper's amendment, which could have ensured a no-deal Brexit was blocked, was a key win for the Government. Although anything is still clearly possible, the appetite for a second referendum does appear to have lessened.

While the Spelman-Dromey amendment opposing no-deal was passed, only Cooper's was binding.

The Prime Minister has proven that she hasn't lost control of the Brexit process.

She just about remains in control, and for that she will be thankful. The Brexiteers had a positive result yesterday, but everything remains to play for.

It's over to team EU for now.

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