Why in Brussels they say the odds of no-deal Brexit are 60%

One of the weirder things about the cabinet is how different ministers hear very different things, about Brexit, at the same meeting.

So after Tuesday's, one boisterous member told me how exciting it was that the PM now has a coherent plan to sort the backstop - which doubtless she and her attorney general Geoffrey Cox will put to Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Commission’s president, when she meets him in Brussels tomorrow night.

But another minister told me; A) this putative cunning plan is "basically for second stage" of the Brexit rescue process; B) won’t be ready in time for next week’s important Commons vote and; C) that Cox himself is "not behaving like a man who thinks he has a solution".

As well he might not.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will, with the PM, present the Government's backstop plan to the EU. Credit: PA

For as far as I can glean, from conversations with several cabinet ministers, the PM/Cox backstop compromise seems likely to disappoint more-or-less everyone (though as one minister said to me, at least the PM is consistent in that respect).

So her idea is that the so-called "alternative arrangements" for keeping open the border on the island of Ireland, that combination of technology and conventional free-trade deal which currently goes by the moniker of the Malthouse plan and which is beloved of ERG Brexiters, would NOT replace the backstop but would be the arrangements that ultimately supersede the backstop (if they are ever proved to actually work, in the eyes of the EU’s 27 governments).

May is keen to investigate 'alternative arrangements' to keep the border open on the island of Ireland. Credit: PA

Which may make the Tories’ ERG Brexiters apoplectic, because for them the whole point of Malthouse was to replace the backstop NOW, to render it wholly redundant.

That was never going to happen, and the PM does not have a scintilla of hope it will.


She will also request of Juncker et al a legally binding commitment either to time-limit the backstop or to provide a compelling and credible route out of it.

May will ask Juncker et al for a legally binding commitment. Credit: PA

However I am absolutely clear the EU will never commit the syntactical sin of agreeing a backstop with an end date or a right for either EU or UK to unilaterally cancel it.

In other words Juncker, Barnier and Selmayr, as and when told of some or all of this tomorrow, will provide little comfort any reworking of the backstop is on offer to persuade the PM’s Tory Brexiter critics they should at the last capitulate and back her deal.

In Brussels officials talk openly of a 60% probability there will be a no-deal Brexit.

In London, her more Remain-y ministers talk openly that before next week’s votes by MPs the PM should pledge to ask the EU for a Brexit delay - or she’ll see perhaps 20 of them resign.

One said: "She’ll have to choose: moderate ministers or ERG".

So just maybe if your bookie is offering you 60% odds of no deal, you should buy them.