Instead, one of her own whips – whose job it is to try and get Tory MPs to vote for her deal – resigned on Monday to vote against it; and her erstwhile allies in Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) dug their heels in yet further.
After a final day’s debate on Tuesday, which may include MPs proposing a bewildering array of amendments to the parliamentary motion, the vote will take place on Tuesday night (local time).
Mrs May’s only hope now is to limit her defeat to a size so that retains some political space to try and push the deal through again after seeking more concessions from the EU. While a handful of MPs have come around to her cause, they are nowhere near enough to secure passage of the deal.
If the margin of defeat is overwhelming,parliamentary factions will begin jockeying to put their own proposals forwardthat might break the deadlock.
One group of former Conservative ministers was on Monday circulating a plan that would see a group of chairmen of existing parliamentary committees – across the main political parties – come together to forge a new Brexit proposal that could command majority Commons support.
But it’s unclear that any other plan has a better chance of success than Mrs May’s – and that means an increasing chance of Britain stumbling by default into a disruptive no-deal exit.
In either case, Mrs May’s already shaky authority will crumble still further, with fresh ministerial resignations a possibility. And Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn may try to trigger an election through a no-confidence motion – although he may hold fire if he doesn’t think he can get the motion carried.
In what Mrs May clearly hoped would be a game-changing intervention,European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk on Monday wrote publicly to herwith fresh assurances on the backstop – the default arrangements that prevent a hard border between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland if Britain and the EU can’t devise a long-term trade deal by the end of 2020.
Rebel Conservative MPs believe the backstop gives Brussels the power to lock Britain into the EU’s regulatory orbit indefinitely, while the DUP worries it will lock Belfast into EU rules and in effect prise the divided province away from Britain.
Backstop neither a threat nor trap: May
Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk pledged the EU would try to strike a trade deal with Britain as soon as possible and avoid triggering the backstop. They also suggested the trade deal did not have to replicate any aspect of the backstop, and the deal could start operating before all EU member states had signed it off. And they flagged the possibility of using new technologies to avoid a hard border in Ireland – something the Brexiteers in Mrs May’s party have long called for.
“They make absolutely clear the backstop is not a threat or a trap,” Mrs May said in her Stoke speech. “If the backstop were triggered it would only be temporary and both sides would do all they could to bring it to an end as quickly as possible.”
But Mrs May’s critics were unmoved. “Rather than reassure us, the Tusk and Juncker letter bolsters our concerns,” said Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s deputy leader. “There are no legally binding assurances.”
The Labour Party agreed: “This is a long way from the significant and legally effective commitment the Prime Minister promised last month,” said Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer. “It is a reiteration of the EU’s existing position. Nothing has changed.”
Parliamentary ‘paralysis’ tipped
With no resolution to the impasse in sight, the EU was reported to be preparing for an extension of the March 29 Brexit deadline. The difficulty is that the European Parliament’s five-yearly election takes place in May, and there’s a technical issue about whether (or how) Britain would participate if the Brexit deadline was pushed back until June or July.
But Mrs May has been standing firm against an extension. In her speech in Stoke, Mrs May indicated she was willing to contemplate taking Britain out of the EU without a Brexit deal.
“I have always believed that while we could ultimately make a success of no-deal, it would cause significant disruption in the short term and it would be far better to leave with a good deal,” she said.
She said many MPs saw a no-deal Brexit as “the ultimate threat to be avoided at all costs”, and for them the only way to avoid it was to vote for her deal. “If no deal is as bad as you believe it is, it would be the height of recklessness to do anything else.”
But her own view was that if her deal was defeated, “the more likely outcome is a paralysis in parliament that risks there being no Brexit”, which she described as “a subversion of the democratic process”.