Sentiment is little different elsewhere in Parliament. In the opposition, Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn criticized the government’s “shambolic handling” of the negotiations, noting that “this is unlikely to be a good deal for the country.” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged the government to reject a deal that “satisfies no-one and can’t command a majority” and return to the negotiating table instead. Arlene Foster, whose Democratic Unionist Party props up May’s governing majority in Westminster, signaled that her party would also vote down the deal.
Read: The small party threatening to topple Theresa May’s government
Still, the government did have plenty of reasons for pushing to secure a deal (even if publicly, few say they will vote for it).
One reason is economic. Though negotiations with the EU could technically be drawn out until the new year, prolonging the process would force the government to step up its no-deal preparation and spending—a move that could spur additional economic uncertainty. “The longer we go with uncertainty,” Georgina Wright, a Brexit analyst at Chatham House, told me, “the more likely [that] businesses are going to kick in their contingency planning for no deal, because they need to ensure that they can continue to trade.”
Another reason is leverage. Up until this point of the negotiations, Britain’s politicians—both in and out of government—had been hopelessly divided. A deal, though unlikely to overcome those divisions, could give May an upper hand at home. “The mood, the context, the dynamics change once we have a deal,” Anand Menon, the director of the London-based U.K. in a Changing Europe think tank, told me. “Business will come out in support, the pound will rally, the Treasury will release forecasts that show” that this is a good deal, he added. “Things will look up all of a sudden,” he noted, “and that might put pressure on MPs.”
May needs at least 320 lawmakers to back her deal in a final vote for it to pass. Without a parliamentary majority or a unified party behind her, it’s estimated that May can only count on as many as 235 party loyalists, as well as four to five Labour lawmakers. Those who have already pledged to vote against her deal include a group of as many as 40 “hard-Brexit” Conservatives and a majority of Labour lawmakers, as well as the Scottish National Party (35 lawmakers), Liberal Democrats (12),the Welsh Plaid Cymru party (four), and the Greens (one).
The remaining number needed for May’s deal to pass must then come from other sources: Labour defectors, begrudging Tories who oppose May’s deal but prefer it to none, or Foster’s Democratic Unionist Party.
The deal has already overcome one major hurdle: the cabinet. After a more-than-five-hour meeting at Number 10 on Wednesday night, May announced that the deal received ministers’ collective backing. “This is a decisive step which enables us to move on and finalize the deal in the days ahead,” May said.