Brexit: Common sense or just scare tactics?

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Media captionTheresa May told Panorama: 'I think that the alternative to that (the Chequers plan) will be not having a deal'

My deal or no deal! An agreement or Armageddon! Compromise or catastrophe!

This is not of course a subject to be flippant about. And it is easy to see why the government has moved already to presenting the next couple of months of fraught activity in Westminster as already being a decision for MPs - back Theresa May whatever she brings back from Brussels or take a reckless roll of the dice.

There is nothing funny about the forecasts of what could happen if there is no deal.

Number 10 believes that will be the rub, the reality of the situation. But while they might wish they were at the closing stage where those arguments will play, they are not there yet.

There are still forces at play that could shape the outcome of the deal, before the Tory whips can start counting up the votes.

First - some Brexiteers are absolutely serious and organised about trying to force Theresa May to shift her plans. They are already making a lot of political noise.

They will demand much of the oxygen at the Tory conference and could make life for the government extremely hard on what one described as 'any or all' votes in the run-up to the Brexit deal.

It doesn't seem necessarily clear to me why the PM would be able to hold off all their demands this time, when on many previous occasions she has had to budge a little.

In turn, some former Remainers plan to use other legislation coming back to Parliament to have another go at softening the government's position.

There is a putative plan for another amendment to leave the country in the European economic area, starting with changing the Trade Bill in the House of Lords.

One MP involved told me: "Some MPs talk about opposing no deal but what does that really mean? There has to be a fallback plan and this amendment could lead the way to finding a solution."

It doesn't mean that those former Remainers will be successful this time around, but it doesn't mean they won't give it a good try.

Add to that the increasing visibility of those campaigning for a second referendum. They know such a vote could only really come out of the turmoil of a no-deal scenario. But they are trying, extremely hard, to shift the terms of the debate.

Common sense or scare tactics?

Lastly and most importantly, Theresa May's plan is a set of proposals for negotiation.

While we may see friendlier rhetoric this week at an EU leaders' shindig in Salzburg, they are never going to accept her compromise in one big chunk.

There will be a process of push and shove, there will have to be some more compromise. The final terms could make the calculations for MPs very different. Even some government ministers privately say they can't be sure they will back the PM until that much later stage.

In the end Number 10 may well be right - they could get their way in Parliament, pushing through a historic deal not by making a persuasive case for its merits but by talking up the risks of saying no.

Common sense? Or just scare tactics? That's the call MPs may have to face.

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