Updated 26 February: When I was a child, a week was a long time in politics. Now, a day is. In fact, an hour is! As of the afternoon of Tuesday 26 February, therefore, this is the latest situation. The Cooper-Letwin amendment to delay Brexit has this afternoon been pulled and will not now be put to the House because Theresa May has made announcements today that many Conservative MPs, crucially including Oliver Letwin himself, think reflect a sufficient move to persuade the Parliamentary party that it still has some say in the process … a move that also pushes the prospect of No Deal further into the rough/into the long grass/in the bin (whatever’s your metaphor of choice).

Labour has said it will back a second referendum, with Emily Thornberry explicit this morning that the referendum would have May’s deal or Remain on it as the only two choices. A second referendum is extremely unlikely, it has to be said, not least because of time limitations but mainly because there is no appetite for it amongst MPs who would have to vote in favour of the Labour amendment. Instead, they will now have three votes, as follows:

    • Tuesday 12 March: meaningful vote on TM’s Withdrawal Agreement
    • Wednesday 13 March: assuming Tuesday’s vote fails (which is likely) MPs will then have a specific vote on No Deal.
    • Thursday 14 March: assuming Wednesday’s vote fails (which is likely) MPs will then have a vote on requesting a delay of Article 50 (which the EU26 are likely to approve).

The delay/extension is mooted as just for a couple of months but given the Government’s recent history of kicking cans down the road, it seems to me that an extension can be replaced by any number of other extensions, or even intrinsically extended itself. As such, it could be an indefinite extension … essentially Remain without actually making the decision to remain.

What might happen if Thursday’s vote also fails is presently unclear but if it were to fail, MPs would have rejected “the” deal, any extension of the deal, and a no-deal Brexit! Perhaps Labour’s amendment of a second referendum will slot into the second of those three days, or even the day after, the 15th March. At that point, should it be reached, the men in white coats will probably have their work cut out for them in the UK and across Europe! What was I saying just two days ago about the Ides of March?!

Updated 24 February: The Prime Minister has said that the vote on her Brexit deal will take place on 12 March, just 17 days before the UK leaves the EU unless Article 50 is revoked (which the UK can do unilaterally) or the UK requests a Brexit delay (which requires the consent of all other EU member states).

The vote will take place a day before the Cooper-Letwin amendment is placed before the House: if Theresa May’s vote succeeds then her deal will be accepted and the Withdrawal Agreement in place; if her vote fails then either the amendment will suceed and she will be required by Parliament to request a delay, or the amendment itself will also fail and nothing will then stand between the UK and a hard Brexit.

This is what the ERG (and DUP) want, of course, and so they have a difficult decision to make. If they vote against Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, the Cooper-Letwin amendment could succeed, especially with the new central Independent Group formed by the disaffected from both Labour and the Tories. And if C-L succeeds, Brexit will be delayed, possibly permanently, assuming the EU26 agree. But if the ERG climbs down and votes for the Withdrawal Agreement after all simply to get some form of Brexit, they will be getting a deal that is in their own words the “worst of all worlds”.

Meanwhile, Michel Barnier is voicing a clearly growing concern in EU and Westminster circles that lurking in the chaos of the final weeks, days, and hours, during which the Article 50 clock continues relentlessly ticking away, is a No Deal By Accident Brexit, one in which everything failed except the inexorable countdown to the point at which the UK is no longer a member of the EU regardless of any attempts to stop, delay or alter the process.

The Ides of a month in the Roman calendar were, generally, the central days. They were fatal both for Julius Caesar and for the Roman Republic. We won’t have too long to wait now to find out how they pan out for the United Kingdom.

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