Richard North, 17/11/2018  

We have now completed the second full day following the publication of the draft withdrawal agreement. And one might observe that, had the media devoted a fraction of its energies to explaining what the draft was about, compared with its coverage of the political soap opera, we might have a population that is rather better informed.

As it is, YouGov is telling us that 42 percent of the public oppose the deal with only 19 percent in favour – with a substantial body of 39 percent in the "don't know" category. There is also a Survation poll, the results of which are not too dissimilar. Structured slightly differently, it has 27 supporting the government, 49 percent opposing and 18 percent recorded as "neither". The "don't knows" come in at six percent.

What is interesting (and possibly anomalous) about the YouGov poll is that more "remain" voters (47 percent) oppose the deal than "leavers" (42 percent). One might have thought it would have been the other way around, with "remainers" supporting something that kept them closer to their beloved EU.

One can see, however, that tribal loyalties are holding under the strain, with 28 percent of Conservative voters (still a minority- with 41 percent opposing) supporting the deal, against 12 Labour voters and 23 percent LibDems. Of all the groups, LibDems and Labour lodge the greatest opposition, with both on 51 percent.

Were the population better informed, one would expect the "don't knows" to be substantially lower (perhaps in the low teens or single figures) and a highly polarised split, with a very high proportion of "leavers" opposing", with the bulk of "remainers" in favour.

Even if the "remainers" didn't like the deal, they might see in it a tactical advantage. It is so bad that it might trigger the referendum that so many of them want, with the chance of overturning the 2016 vote.

All of this, of course, is hypothetical. One can entertain the thought that the bulk of those who offered opinions were ill-informed (or poorly informed, if there is a distinction), although that does not necessarily invalidate their opinions.

On the basis of what they know, those "leavers" already opposing the deal could, with better knowledge, simply strengthen their opinions. On the other hand, more information generally might up the percentage of "leavers" opposing the deal, but have like effect in adding to the "remainers" supporting the deal.

Assuming that, as time goes by, voter information will increase (not necessarily a sound assumption), it will be interesting to see how that affects support in the real world. Perceptions may vary in unpredictable ways.

What seems to be a reflection of the low-information environment, though, is the number of voters who believe that a better deal could have been negotiated, or that it would still be possible to negotiate a better deal.

However, two-point question renders the response ambiguous. I would certainly answer that a better deal could have been negotiated. But if the ranks of EU Member State leaders are to be believed – including Angela Merkel – improvements are not possible.

The message coming through is that there is "no question" of further talks, not now and not if the deal is rejected by the Westminster parliament. It's that or nothing, which certainly confounds suggestions that any concessions can be squeezed out of the "colleagues". These have been floated over the last couple of days, indicating that some of the worst aspects of the deal can somehow be mitigated.

Even now, we are told, the three Cabinet Brexiteers, Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove and Penny Mordaunt, are to demand that Mrs May pushes Brussels for further concessions as the price of their loyalty.

These fantasies aside, the problem we face collectively is that we can either have this withdrawal agreement or "no deal". The chips are down and there are no half measures. But to call the draft agreement a "deal" is perhaps to give it a gloss which is simply not supported by reality. In no sense does this facilitate our exit. Rather, it keeps us trapped in the EU in a highly unfavourable, subordinate position.

As long as we were full members of the EU, we have the option of invoking unilaterally Article 50, which automatically drops us out of the EU after two years, with the treaties no longer applying. But what this agreement does is replace the treaties with a similar burden of obligations through the so-called "backstop", while excluding us from the decision-making institutions.

Crucially though, we cannot exit from this arrangement by unilateral declaration. It can be blocked by the EU, which can make its assent conditional on the agreement of a replacement which has the effect of securing frictionless trade across the Irish border. Since the arrangement pencilled in, to be negotiated with the EU, cannot secure this, there is no obvious (or any) way the UK can rid itself of the "backstop".

Previously, I have ventured that we have been offered a BRINO (Brexit In Name Only) but, on reflection, it might be better termed Not Even Brexit (NEB). It is not a deal as such We are being offered an un-deal. And that means the only way we can secure full withdrawal from the EU is to exit without a deal.

This is what Pete is calling a Frankenbrexit and he makes no bones about who he considers to a very great extent to be responsible for this state of affairs: the "ultras", in their manifestation as the ERG. In having blocked the Efta/EEA option, they have forced Mrs May's hand, leaving us with this dog's dinner.

Although we are now seeing the effects of this, the die was cast with Mrs May's Lancaster House speech on 17 January 2017. At that point, in excluding continued participation in the Single Market, she ensured that there was no possibility of staying in the EEA. The outcome that we are saddled with was largely predictable.

As to the UK political response, the lure of the chauffeur-driven car has obviously exerted its effect and the widely touted ministerial revolt has largely stalled. Midair Bacon has been the highest profile casualty, but he has been replaced, with other the gaps also filled.

Although more cabinet resignations are said to be expected, Mrs May so far has walked away intact from her trial by fire. Her next challenge comes from ERG members and their supporters, invoking internal Conservative Party procedures in order to trigger a leadership contest.

For all the hype, this does not have the feel of a successful revolt. King-maker Steve Baker lacks conviction and presence, and the numbers do not stack up. The dynamic which has kept Mrs May in office still seen to be working in her favour. The Party is so divided that no one faction can muster enough supporters to vote their own candidate in, while mutual loathing prevents the formation of powerful alliances.

My guess (unsupported by any direct evidence) is that the immediate threat will peter out, leaving the ERG stranded as the minority rump that it always has been. Its members know that if they invoke the procedure and fail, another challenge cannot be mounted for a year, by which time it would be too late to achieve anything. So, without the numbers, they must stay their hand.

Things may, of course, change. Baker claims the prime minister could face a vote as early as next week, although he cannot deny that the rate of letters coming in to the 1922 Committee to trigger the vote has been "slower than people think".

Nevertheless, there are few things quite so unpredictable as politics and there is always the unexpected to catch out the unwary. But all things being equal (which they rarely are), the most serious challenge to the un-deal will arrive when it goes to parliament for a "meaningful" vote.

So far, we have no indications as to when that vote might be, other than the plan is to have it before Christmas. But we can be fairly well assured that Mrs May loses the vote, it will be followed by a vote of confidence.

Rebel Tory MPs (and the DUP MPs to an extent) could be faced with the prospect of a general election, in which some may well lose their seats. I would not care to bet against ERG supporters folding, just like the Tory rebels did at Maastricht. And if they vote for self before country, Mrs May (and the un-deal) could scrape though by the narrowest of margins.

Without a stake through the heart and a silver bullet in the brain, the un-deal will then roam the land, ripping the guts out of our MPs and emasculating our leaders. The dampening effect of "Europe" on our politics may have a way to go yet. Normal service has not been resumed.

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