The new deal agreed between the EU and Boris Johnson is set to divide the House of Commons for another close vote. With the DUP holding firm, but veteran Eurosceptic Tories capitulating, all eyes are on a handful of MPs with the future of the UK and EU in their grip.

First published in October 2019.

On Wednesday, Eurosceptic extraordinaire Andrew Bridgen, stated on Channel 4 News that he would find a new deal hard to support if the DUP gave it the cold shoulder. A day later, and he’s changed his mind. Suddenly for a lot of ERG types this deal represents a better Brexit. A non-Theresa May Brexit. A no compromises manspreading Brexit.

I’d like to ask what Andrew Bridgen thinks Brexit smells like. Surely that would be as subjective as the issue itself? For the ERG and their selection of red-faced Beano characters masquerading as politicians, Brexit smells like the crisp fresh air on the English coast. For Remainers? It just smells like the immediate internal movements following a dodgy pizza from Domino’s, which is to say, shit.

The deal itself is not the remarkable Olympic moment that many are exalting. The BBC must be being given toffees or sweets by the Prime Minister for them to leave out so much scrutiny. Though, if I was a unionist MP in Northern Ireland I too would be very wary to give my name in the Ayes lobby. Arlene Foster must have spluttered over her bran flakes reading that the Prime Minister had shafted their their concerns about the union. Replacing the backstop with full alignment in the EU regulatory customs union and single market? It’s a life preserver for sure, but the DUP have made it crystal clear that it is not about Brexit, but the fate of the union.

Speaking of Northern Ireland, isn’t it a little bit optimistic to be putting the issue of consent into the hands of Stormont? The only reason they’re returning to the hill on Monday is so they can ‘debate’ abortion rights. They’ve been without a working devolved government for almost three years, ever since Arlene took all her wood pellets and boilers and turned it into liquid cash. Why not have a regional referendum to put the alignment matter directly to the people of Northern Ireland? After the transition period, and initial backlash from the big Brexit break-off, the consent should be given by the people.

Alas for the DUP, they’ve had the Number 10 door closed in their face. Leaving that charming wedding venue on the Wirral, the Prime Minister’s mood must have been deeply influenced by Leo Varadkar. Before their negotiations, Johnson was waving his no-deal stick around like a Morris dancer. It’s proven that face-to-face diplomacy is always more successful than letters and phone calls. A surprisingly influential moment we should remember.

Of course, with the Northern Ireland alignment dealt with, much like a flawed character creation from Dungeons & Dragons the rest of the UK must also be considered. My money’s on chaotic neutral. The UK (excluding NI) will be out of the customs union and single market, free to mount Liz Truss’ big banana boat in search of trade deals. This is a crucial tenant for the ERG to fall over for. Total market freedom.

Liz Truss in Sydney, Australia / Twitter - @TrussLiz

A capitalist’s wet dream. But slashing regulations and putting more of our governance in the market’s hands is bad news for Joe/Jo Bloggs. It’ll mean business concerns are made reality, workers’ rights and privileges attached to Liz’s boat. Exporters will have a tough time – but we’ll still get people lamenting the loss of our manufacturing/agriculture industries. “We can grow our own!” says Dave, 57, from Tamworth, as he tucks into a plastic fried egg. Keir Starmer rightly called it impossible for Labour to support such deregulation.

The House of Commons is sitting for an emergency debate on Saturday, as outlined by the Benn Act and the need to do some damn scrutiny on a something they’ve only had 48 hours to read. There’ll be a vote on the deal. The numbers as they stand are hairier than Stephen Kinnock’s face. The DUP are a no, but ERG ‘Spartans’ (which, to be honest, is like casting Caroline Lucas as JR in a reboot of Dallas) are more likely to support, along with many of the sacked Tories. There are questions over whether the Tories are treating this as a confidence vote, which is to say a vote to sack anyone who doesn’t hold Johnson’s sceptre. The independent Tories are also reported to have given their support for a referendum, as long as the deal is voted down first. A prime reason why there’ll be no People’s Vote amendment on Saturday.

Though the big focus for both sides is on those floating backbenchers from Labour. This small bloc of MPs who are fervently against a referendum will have their WhatsApp messages going like the clappers. They may be so desperate to get a deal done that they’ll ignore the deregulation and threat to business stuff – you know, all that rubbish. If the deal is passed by a few Labour votes, the blame will be at Corbyn’s Islington doorstep, not the Prime Minister. A general election where Remain voters recognise how Labour MPs opened the door to a damaging future will be a vote that Corbyn will lose.

There’s a lot going on and it’s all very unpredictable as usual. My advice is to email your MPs if you are represented by someone in that floating bloc. A single message of polite and informed opposition to their ‘aye’ vote could make a big difference.

Oh, and if you can get to any town centres on Saturday, London is having another crucial wander through Westminster for a People’s Vote. Because it really is ridiculous that we’re three and a half years since that vote that plunged us into the deep, and we’ve not been given a say. The end is nigh, as they say.🔷

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[This is an original piece, first published by the author in on 18 October 2019. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Dreamstime/Wojtek Kaczkowski.)