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PM 'may cancel third meaningful vote'

Time is running out for the prime minister to secure a deal. Credit: PA

All the talk among Cabinet ministers - who as usual in Theresa May’s government know next-to-nothing about what the PM is actually going to do - is that the bloomin’ meaningful vote won’t after all that be held next week.

"The DUP [the 10 Northern Ireland MPs who prop up the government] don’t look as though they are coming on board," said one.

"It looks as though she’ll lose by a bit more than last time," said another. "Why would she do that to herself?"

If they are right and she does not bring her Brexit deal back for ratification by MPs, then dead too - probably - is the idea she’ll imminently announce the date of her resignation as PM.

According to a senior minister, between 30 and 40 Tory MPs had told her directly or through the whips they would probably vote for her deal if she pledged to go as soon as Brexit became a reality - so she would have no involvement in negotiating the important future relationship with the EU.

"But it is now clear those are not enough votes to get her deal over the line," he said.

"So it would be pointless to turn herself into a lame duck [by giving a departure date]".

May intends to hold a series of indicative votes next week. Credit: PA

Further circumstantial evidence she intends to stay in office - for now - is the government is planning under its own name to hold indicative votes on Tuesday, to see if a majority of MPs would back any of the proposed routes through the current impasse.

Or to put it another way, Theresa May is in theory embracing the strategy of her sternest critics.

Because what is striking is that her indicative votes would happen the day BEFORE the day the senior Tory backbencher Sir Oliver Letwin wanted to seize for his own iteration of indicative votes - in which MPs would be presented with various Brexit or no-Brexit plans (referendum, Common Market 2.0, Norway-plus, Canada-plus, etc) and asked to tick the versions they like.

Letwin’s hijacking of the parliamentary timetable is supposed to happen via a motion to be put to MPs for a vote on Monday.

And he’ll only cancel his orgy of Brexit voting two days later if he is satisfied that the process overseen by the PM on Tuesday was kosher.

Here is the measure of how trust has broken down between even Tory MPs and the PM.

Letwin, Boles and the indicative vote obsessives do not trust her to negotiate with the EU to deliver whichever version of Brexit or no Brexit tops the MPs’ polls, even if she promises to deliver it.

Their plan is to hijack another parliamentary day the following week to vote on a motion that would mandate her to negotiate with the EU the Brexit version MPs favour and whatever EU leaving date is consistent with that (probably 22 May for the soft Brexit models, a year or so from now for a referendum).

At that point she would no longer be a conventional prime minister; she would be the puppet or cipher of MPs, prime minister in name only.

Would that be a humiliation too far for Theresa May. She will battle to prevent it.