For two years it has been obvious that a pair of distinct parliamentary groups, the no-dealers and the no-Brexiters, have been waiting for May to come back to the Commons with whatever negotiated compromise her government has garnered, and to then reject it.
Since that abortive election there’s also been the DUP, who were always going to make Ireland a tricky issue. Labour had no clear (or indeed coherent) policy and so could be relied upon to act opportunistically up to the last moment.
All this would surely have been clear to the government for ages.
The no-dealers and the no-Brexiters are polar opposites, yet depend on the threat of the other to have any hope of getting what they want.
So what May did this week was quite smart. She gave the impression that the vote would go ahead yesterday until the very last minute then postponed it.
This allows her to run down the clock, which effectively makes a second referendum before March close to impossible and thus puts the no-dealers in a real pickle, because when the parliamentary vote does finally happen in January the choice really will be between no deal and ‘her’ deal, and the PM will know that in the final analysis there is no majority in the House for a calamitous exit from the EU.
They noted that they’d been placed in check and responded with their desperate no confidence vote today, but it was doomed, and so are they.
Future historians will surely decide that the whole god-awful mess was David Cameron’s fault and that May did well enough in the aftermath of the 2016 vote to neutralise Boris, Jacob and co and to establish a path to an orderly Brexit which would protect the UK's commercial interests and restore some control over the borders.
If she made any mistake along the way it was referring to this deal as a deal. It’s really just a holding position that we will need to assume in March 2019 until a final free trade agreement has been settled. I can’t see anything other than some close variation of the current agreement taking effect when we leave next year.
The alternatives can only be contemplated by people who care but little for consequences.
Talk of May being ‘injured’ or having lost her moral authority is plain nonsense. The likes of Rees-Mogg and Boris have been damaged for sure. But she won, just as the Brexit 52% did, and they didn’t feel particularly beaten up then.