Michael Gove’s prediction that the government has a “pretty solid majority” for an agreement sounds bold, given the actual parliamentary arithmetic says that majority is -43.
But movement among Brexiteers and Labour MPs who believe they have to deliver Brexit means victory could be within reach.
The magic number a Brexit deal needs to pass is 320. Add together the ‘payroll’ of 117 ministers and parliamentary aides and the 150 loyal Conservative backbenchers who would vote for a deal, and the government is sitting on around 267 votes.
The last vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal saw it defeated by 58 votes, including 34 Conservative rebels and the 10 DUP MPs opposed to the backstop.
Johnson has now put forward his plans to replace the backstop, and offered the DUP an effective veto on regulatory alignment with the EU, as well as an unspecified sum of money for investment in Northern Ireland. As a result, Arlene Foster’s Unionist party is now on side for the first time, bringing the tally to 277.
The expulsion of 21 Conservative MPs from the parliamentary party has contributed to Johnson’s winless streak in Commons votes. However, many of them oppose a no-deal Brexit, and 23 out of the 35 independent MPs voted for the Brexit deal last time, bringing total support to 300.
Five Labour MPs rebelled to vote for the Brexit deal and would be expected to do so again. They’ve been joined by at least four more who have indicated they would back a new deal over no-deal. That takes the tally to 309, leaving the government just 11 votes short.
The 28 Eurosceptic Tories who voted against the deal every time it came before the Commons call themselves the ‘Spartans’, but unlike their Greek heroes who fought the Persians at Thermopylae, several of them look ready to surrender.
Three of them are now in government, and three more, including European Research Group chairman Steve Baker, have welcomed the proposed new deal. So if government whips can win over even half the Spartans, they can squeeze the Brexit deal through.