Days after her Brexit plan was savagely rejected by MPs, Theresa May returns to parliament for round two in a desperate attempt to break the deadlock that has paralysed British politics.
It remains unclear whether she will be able to convince MPs – from her own Conservative Party or the opposition – to back her revised deal, which is expected to be a revamped version of the one that was so badly defeated last week.
Already some have come up with a conspiracy theory they believe is proof Mrs May is plotting to get her own way after all.
She is believed to be attempting to remove or amend the hated Irish backstop from her plan in a bid to win over MPs. The backstop is the insurance policy that would kick in at the end of a transition period in December 2020 if no trade deal had been agreed to.
The backstop avoids a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but keeps the UK in a customs union with European Union they would not unilaterally be allowed to leave.
After a week of debate in the House of Commons, the revised plan will face a vote on January 29 and the prime minister hopes it will be passed, proving to the EU there is a mandate from parliament. At present the EU has essentially said the political mess Mrs May is in is one of the UK’s own making, and have urged the Brits to sort it out among themselves and then return with a coherent way forward.
Under this scenario, after the January 29 vote Mrs May would then return to Brussels to try to obtain some concessions. Then a re-run of the “meaningful vote” on Brexit can be held, most likely next month.
To be successful, all this hinges on the EU agreeing to substantial changes to the plan and backstop – which would require a major reversal in their position – and MPs softening their opposition to the deal.
The original version was smashed 432 -202.
If a second vote was to occur next month and was lost, it would greatly increase the chances of a no-deal departure or extending the departure date from the scheduled March 29 until later in the year.
That has already fuelled accusations that this is a deliberate ploy by the government to force MPs to decide between the revised deal and no deal, something most will do anything to avoid.
Those who believe that theory think it was always the intention of Mrs May to leave it until almost the last minute to railroad MPs to supporting her plan, which they believe is flawed.
A no-deal exit though would run the risk of a damaging and disorderly exit that could batter the UK economy and lead to job losses.
Labour frontbencher Yvette Cooper said Mrs May should rule out a no-deal exit “in the national interest”, but said the prime minister privately hoped that parliament would prevent such a damaging outcome arising.
“We are in this situation because the prime minister and the government has not worked with parliament,” Ms Cooper told the BBC’s Today program.
ITV reported today Mrs May’s ultimate plan all along was to run the clock as close as possible to Brexit day.
In two words, the strategy is “tick-tock”, wrote political editor Robert Peston, who said the time after the January 29 vote and the re-run vote would be the most critical.
“The prime minister’s plans B, C , D and E are all the same: run the clock as close as possible to 29 March, Brexit Day, so that enough of the critics to her Brexit plan blink at the risk of either crashing out with no deal or seeing Brexit cancelled such that it passes at the last.”
The result would be a hard choice for MPs – reject her revised plan, or risk a no-deal or even no Brexit.
“By which point we will be a month from the due date for exiting the EU, and if parliament were to reject her deal we may be no nearer knowing how and even whether we are actually leaving the EU.”