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LONDON — As Theresa May announced her Cabinets collective approval of the withdrawal deal she negotiated with Brussels, she listed three options: her deal, no deal and no Brexit.
It was the first time she acknowledged that not doing Brexit at all is even a possibility. And she couldnt avoid it, since no Brexit is today — on form at least — the favorite among the choices she offered.
Now Im not one to promote gambling, but in the three-horse race that is Brexit, anyone fleet of foot enough to get down to the bookies today can still get double-your-money 2-to-1 odds on another referendum at any time in 2019.
Even more astonishing, you can get 5-to-1 odds on a referendum next year resulting in a Remain vote. This is ridiculously good value.
Neither Tory nor Labour Party frontbenchers have the courage to unilaterally back away from Brexit.
Granted, youd need to act quickly as the potential payoff is shrinking by the day.
Mays deal is being slowly euthanized. If her own survival is unlikely, the death of her deal is guaranteed. There is nothing like a majority for it in parliament, as became clear Thursday when Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg — like many, many others on the Conservative benches — stuck his knife in and wandered out of a three-hour session in Parliament to submit his letter of no confidence in Mays leadership.
That leaves us two runners: no deal and no Brexit.
In the fog of posturing and deceit that has shrouded Brexit, two things at least are clear.
Pro-Brexit MP Jacob-Rees Mogg has formally challenged Theresa Mays leadership | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images
First: Parliament is desperate to avoid no deal. The hard core of Rees-Moggs European Research Group are practically alone in being comfortable with this.
Second: Neither Tory nor Labour Party frontbenchers have the courage to unilaterally back away from Brexit.
Even if a Conservative Party vote of no confidence replaces May with a hardcore Brexiteer, parliament would find a way to block no deal — unprecedented as that course of action is. (As for anyone still fantasizing about Canada ++ (thats you Boris), the EU will never accept it. No time, no inclination.)
If May falls and a new Tory leader takes her place, therell be no need for a general election, given that May was not removed by parliament but by her party.
Westminster is paralyzed by fear and confusion. Even though Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has managed the almost inconceivable feat of failing to pull ahead of the Tories in the polls, no sane Conservative leader (I know, I know) would take the gamble of calling for a fresh election.
So, the only course left — the one that would make any sense to all sides — is to throw the question back to the people.
Only a fool would predict anything with any certainty in this “Alice in Wonderland” moment of British politics.
Labour would back a vote. Hardcore Tories would back a vote (believing they would prevail). And — crucially — the EU27 would back it, and help find a way to give us the time wed need beyond March 29, 2019 to make it happen.
This is where the attitude of the EU27 becomes central to the future of Brexit.
EU politicians and policymakers across the board have expressed regret at Britains decision, and are likely to consider possibility of the U.K. staying in the bloc as a positive outcome — not least because the country has played a crucial role in pushing back against federalization in the EU.
Here, concerns among some Europeans regarding total freedom of movement, increased federalization in the shape of a European Army and protectionism of the failed euro project could again present Britain a lifeline.
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Number 10 Downing Street | Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Encouragement from the EU27 on the validity, and the necessity, of calling a second referendum would show the Brits that the bloc is alive to the wishes of the British people and values democratic processes.
On the flip side, if the EU demonstrates the same aloof disdain for the rational concerns of the British voter, then Leave would — I believe — win another vote.
Only a fool would predict anything with any certainty in this “Alice in Wonderland” moment of British politics. But it would be a mistake to consider the Brexit story already written.
Two years ago, when my newspaper began the campaign for a second referendum, we were accused of howling at the moon. Today, it is more than possible.
And, whats more, its very, very winnable.
Matt Kelly is editor of the New European.