Brexit: Could Commons defeats peel off some rebels?

A packed House of Commons
Image caption A busy day in the Commons for MPs - and Theresa May

Down is up. Up is down. Black is white. And white is black. Friend is foe. Foe is friend. Stop me now, or else I'll go on forever.

But the point is this - the prime minister has had a terrible day today as the government made history in two excruciating ways.

Ministers were found to be in contempt of Parliament - a very serious telling off - and the government had a hat trick of defeats - the first time since the 1970s that's happened.

As you'd expect too, MP after MP after MP rose after Theresa May's remarks to slam her deal as Tory divisions were played out on the green benches, with harsh words exchanged.

But in this topsy-turvy world, the overall outcome of the day for Mrs May's big test a week tonight might have been not all bad.

The amendment from Tory Remain rebel Dominic Grieve is, on the face of it, a strait jacket for Mrs May - a way that MPs can more easily push the government around.

So far, so disaster. Except it could actually peel off some rebels on both sides... possibly.

Former Remain rebels now have a possible route to get what they want if the PM's plan is rejected, as there is a possible - I emphasise the possible - way to get a vote with a majority for a Norway-style agreement or, less likely, a push for another referendum.

That won't go unnoticed by Brexiteers too, who may feel (some of them at least) that Mrs May's deal might be their best bet in that case, rather than risk that softer, squidgier Brexit.

It's possible therefore that today's shenanigans have made it less likely that the prime minister will face a terrible defeat next week because a few wobbly rebels on both sides might come in line.

It's also worth noting the involvement of several former, normally loyal, cabinet ministers such as Sir Oliver Letwin.

He has often been used as a fixer by the chief whip, whispers suggest. It's perfectly possible that his moves today are completely unrelated.

But also not impossible that somehow today's result has been influenced by conversations about finding the prime minister a softer landing.

Suggestions there was any kind of collusion were described as something that's too rude to write here. But nothing much happens around here at the moment without motive and suspicion being questioned.

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