It was already looking tough before the high drama of last week, when May’s Brexit Secretary walked out of the Cabinet and vowed to vote against the deal. As ministerial resignations swelled the ranks of her opponents, May moved to bring a couple of would-be rebels on side. The numbers look trickier than ever.
There are 650 members of Parliament in the House of Commons, known as MPs. Of these, the Speaker and his three deputies don’t vote. The seven members of Sinn Fein don’t take their seats. That leaves 639 MPs, so if everyone votes, 320 are needed for a majority.
Voting With May
Conservative Payroll Vote: around 150
These are the 95 Conservative MPs who have some kind of paid government job, and then about 50 more who work unpaid as a ministerial assistant. They would have to resign from this job to vote against her. In the aftermath of the deal being announced, seven did exactly that -- though they will be replaced.
Conservative Loyalists: around 85
These are the MPs who don’t care very much about Brexit, or want to move the national conversation on to other things, or hope to further their careers, or who are just loyal. May should be able to count on them.
One Liberal Democrat
Stephen Lloyd has said that he’ll vote in favor of the deal.
That’s 236. May needs another 84. Now things get hard.
Possibly Voting With May
Labour Brexiteers: 0 to 5
These are oppositon Labour Party MPs who believe in Brexit. Five of them have voted with the government, but the story is complicated. One of them, Kate Hoey, is touring the country attacking May’s deal as a betrayal of the Brexit cause -- and has said she’s minded to vote against. Another, Dennis Skinner, can generally be persuaded to vote with Labour if the government might be defeated.
Anxious Labour: 0 to 20
Labour MPs who represent pro-Brexit districts and who feel the referendum result should be respected, or who fear the impact of uncertainty dragging on and who want the issue resolved. In October, the Tories talked about this as a sizable number, but on the Labour side there’s a lot of doubt about that. Labour’s internal pressure group, Momentum, has come out against voting for Brexit. That carries the threat that MPs who vote with the government will be prevented from standing as Labour candidates at the next election. On top of that, if Tory Brexiteers are voting against May’s deal, it’s hard to argue that doing so means you don’t support Brexit in principle.
Probably Voting Against May
Tory europhiles: between 0 and 12
Whatever their private views, few Conservatives are willing to say publicly that they think Brexit is a mistake. But some have gone as far as voting against the government with a view to keeping closer ties with the EU. Their vilification at the hands of the pro-Brexit newspapers has hardened their resolve, and a portion of them see voting against May’s deal as a necessary step on the road to a second referendum. But these aren’t temperamental rebels, so Tory whips will hope they can persuade them back into line -- or at least to abstain -- with warnings of the dangers of a no-deal exit from the EU. A new addition to this group is Jo Johnson, a pro-EU Tory who resigned over May’s handling of the negotiation. But another of their number, Stephen Hammond, has been brought back into the loyal fold with a ministerial job. Amber Rudd, a high-profile remainer, was appointed to the Cabinet last week and endorses May’s deal. She may help nudge a few in this group to vote with May.
The DUP: 10
The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party props up May’s government as part of a “confidence and supply" agreement, essentially giving May’s minority government a parliamentary majority on key legislation. But the party has made clear it won’t back it without changes.
Tory Brexiteers: between 10 and 65
The most important non-party grouping in this debate is the European Research Group, the caucus of Conservatives who want a clean break with the EU. Led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, they have forced the government to back down several times this year. Their membership is secret, but 64 signed a letter in October to the Daily Telegraph. One of their number reckons 45 of them are steadfast.
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson can be added to this group since resigning from government and becoming an ardent critic of May’s plan. So can Raab and Esther McVey, who also resigned last week.
May can’t win without a serious squeeze on the ERG. Her pitch has been that the deal isn’t perfect but it secures Brexit and offers the possibility of getting further away from the EU once Irish border issues are resolved. The alternative, she has repeatedly warned, could be no Brexit at all.
It’s very hard to judge the voting strength of the ERG because they usually win their battles with the government before a vote is cast. One clue is that 52 Tories have signed up to vote against May’s so-called Chequers blueprint from July, and what’s on the table now is arguably an even greater capitulation in the eyes of some hardliners. There are at least 10 people in this group that it’s impossible to imagine voting with May.
Definitely Voting Against May
Labour Pro-Europeans: 75
This group have little loyalty to leader Jeremy Corbyn and could be seduced by a deal that mimicked the EU’s single market, but May has made no effort to win them over, and this deal isn’t going to do it.
Labour Loyalists: 155
Corbyn has said Labour will vote against May’s deal. Labour sees defeating May on such a monumental vote as a way to provoke a general election.
SNP: 35; Lib Dems: 11; Plaid Cymru: 4; Greens: 1
These smaller parties -- Scottish and Welsh Nationalists, Liberal Democrats -- are determinedly opposed to Brexit. May has little hope of getting any of them on board.