By every calculation and prediction, May will lose the vote. Her ruling Conservative Party and its ally, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), hold a bare majority in the 650-seat Parliament, but some estimates predict May’s Brexit bill could be defeated by more than 100 votes.
The PM told the House of Commons on Monday that a “no deal” Brexit could lead to the break up of the United Kingdom and appealed to MPs to give her plans a “second look.”
Even EU leaders tried to help May’s campaign by issuing a statement on Monday setting out assurances that the controversial backstop, an insurance policy to prevent a hard border in Ireland, would only be temporary — but pro-Brexit lawmakers remained skeptical because the assurances carried no additional legal force.
And so, barring a few MPs who changed their minds, it does not look like May’s attempts at persuasion have worked. The big question in Westminster is now no longer whether or not she wins, but who will take control of the fallout narrative.
May’s aides in Downing Street are scrambling to ensure the Prime Minister looks in command of events, even if she loses badly.
It is likely she will deliver a speech in the Commons shortly after the vote setting out her next steps, including possibly an alternative plan that she can take back to the European Union for approval — and then get through Parliament.
Yet factions in all political parties will be poised to fix their own narrative, too.
Pro-Brexit Conservatives, who tried and failed to unseat May as Prime Minister in a confidence vote last month, believe Downing Street is playing up reports that the margin of defeat for May’s bill could be higher than 200 — making it the worst for a Prime Minister in British history — as a way of managing expectations and making a narrower defeat look like a minor victory.
These Brexiteers want to use the likely defeat to show that the government must take a radically different path — and leave the EU without a negotiated deal.
This is the hardest of all Brexit models, but one which Euroskeptic Conservatives believe will give the UK their cherished dream of freedom from the EU.