Brexit: What's happening with the PM's conundrum?

Theresa May speaking at an event to mark publication of 10-year NHS plan Image copyright PA

On the face of it, it seems like very, very little has changed about the prime minister's conundrum.

One source joked to me that I could just re-open my notebook from the last day before the Christmas break and carry on as if the past fortnight hadn't happened.

The prime minister is still pushing for extra promises from the EU about making the controversial Irish backstop temporary and a bigger role for Parliament and potentially for the Northern Ireland Assembly (which, remember, hasn't sat for a very long time now).

But there is precious little sign of anything that might be described as hefty enough to convince scores of MPs to change their minds and swing in behind her deal.

It is likely that something will emerge, a form of words, a stronger commitment to the hoped for start date for the long-term trade deal perhaps.

But the EU is in no mood for something big that could reopen the withdrawal agreement.

And MPs are very far away from changing their minds. Theresa May's opponents have not come back to work ready to make nice and back the deal after all.

And it's a simple equation.

More MPs are poised to vote against Mrs May's deal next week than the number committed to backing it.

And there is no sign of any further compromise from the EU that's significant enough to shift them - yet.

But something has changed since the last time the prime minister called the vote, before dramatically calling it off, and it's nothing to do with the assurances she may or may not get from Brussels.

In the wake of that change of heart, dozens of backbenchers tried to push her out of office with a no-confidence vote.

She survived it but more than 100 of her own side voted against her - a kick to her authority then but might it help her now?

Remember, under the rules of a Tory leadership contest, a confidence vote can't be held for another year if the leader manages to stay on.

That's why one cabinet minister told me this means "everything has changed" - if the vote is lost next week, Tory MPs at least can't force another challenge, so in theory she is safe from her own party.

Last time round, if the prime minister had ploughed ahead with the vote, she faced the very real prospect of a heavy defeat that would have triggered a leadership contest she could have lost.

The argument goes, therefore, that now she has the insurance policy of being safe from that kind of challenge, Parliament could be asked to "vote, vote and then vote again", and eventually a version of her deal will pass.

That theory makes other assumptions, of course - that the prime minister could survive a vote of confidence if the Labour Party was to force one if she loses the vote next week, and, more to the point, that the deal would look any more tempting on repeated attempts to ram it through.

But while we have been here before, not so long ago, the circumstances are not exactly the same.

Related Topics

More on this story