The fiercest battles over Brexit have always been fought within Britain. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, recognized that when Parliament rejected the deal she negotiated with the Europeans — three times.
Indeed, within minutes of Johnson’s revised deal landing Thursday, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) diminished its chances by declaring that the party’s 10 members of Parliament would not support it.
Now, Johnson must figure out how to make up for those votes, and then some. Analysts calculate that he needs about 60 votes beyond what was already locked up to get to the 320-vote threshold for the deal to pass.
Tim Bale, a politics professor at the Queen Mary University of London, estimated that it was possible, but not probable, that Parliament would back Johnson on Saturday.
Rob Ford, a politics professor at the University of Manchester, said it will be “tight.”
Mujtaba Rahman, an analyst with Eurasia Group, predicted the vote would come down to “single digits either way” but that, without DUP support, it was “difficult to see” the deal passing.
If Johnson is to defy expectations, for the second time in one week, he will need to find new pockets of support. So whom might he persuade?
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the official opposition Labour Party, has said his party will not back the agreement. “Johnson’s negotiated a worse deal than Theresa May,” Corbyn tweeted Thursday. “This sellout deal risks our rights, protections and [National Health Service]. It won’t bring the country together and should be rejected.”
But some Labour lawmakers — most likely those who are Euroskeptics, or who have Euroskeptic constituencies — may buck their party and vote with Johnson.
Labour has a nuanced — some say muddled — position on Brexit, and some of its members of Parliament may want to enter the next general election with Brexit in the rearview mirror.
“Some Labour MPs also think that once we get this deal done, we can go back to politics as usual,” Bale said. Being able to focus on other issues, such as living standards or health care, some of them may hope, could provide Labour with higher chances of succeeding in an election.
Ford said that without the DUP on board, Johnson probably would need the backing of at least 15 to 20 Labour lawmakers to give him any chance of victory Saturday. Could he get there? Perhaps. Earlier this month, 19 Labour members of Parliament wrote a letter to the E.U. urging it to strike a deal with Britain.
Ex-Tory lawmakers and other independents
Last month, Johnson kicked 21 Conservative lawmakers out of his party after they rebelled to block a no-deal Brexit. Many had been party loyalists until that point — including Nicholas Soames, grandson of wartime leader Winston Churchill — and it seems likely that a sizable number will fall back in line.
“There is a lot of speculation about olive branches on offer from Number 10,” Ford said, referring to the prime minister’s official residence. If Johnson offers to bring those lawmakers back into good standing, meaning they could run as Conservatives in the next election, that might be sufficiently appealing to many of them.
Philip Hammond, Britain’s former finance minister, said Friday that he wanted further reassurances from Johnson. He would not be “duped,” he wrote for the Times, but added, “I am not a lost cause.”
Amber Rudd, who quit Johnson’s cabinet, said she was still undecided. “Hope PM can speak persuasively & make the case on behalf of the whole country,” she tweeted Friday.
And what about Jo Johnson, the prime minister’s brother, who quit the cabinet, citing “unresolvable tension” between family loyalty and the national interest? Jo Johnson voted against Brexit in 2016 and has campaigned for a second referendum. The prime minister may not be able to count on his brother to get him over the line.
A group of 28 hard-line Euroskeptics in the Conservative Party did not back May’s deal on any of its outings. But several in the group — who call themselves “the Spartans” after ancient Greek warriors — have indicated greater warmth for Johnson’s deal. Steve Baker, the group’s leader, emerged from 10 Downing Street on Tuesday night saying he was “optimistic that it is possible to reach a tolerable deal that I am able to vote for.”
The group has often taken its cue from the DUP. And on Wednesday, Mark Francois, a Spartan, said his caucus would take DUP views “very strongly into account.” But he also noted that “it is not axiomatic we would follow whatever the DUP do.”
Some of these hard-liners fear losing Brexit altogether if they do not back this deal. Others say they may not agree with everything in the deal but they like that Johnson has outlined a more decisive split than that envisioned by May. As a Brexiteer, Johnson was always going to be able to win over other Brexiteers where his predecessor struggled.
And if other means of persuasion do not work, Johnson could threaten to kick them out of the party.
“They know now he means it,” Ford said. “A guy willing to hoof out Churchill’s grandson is not going to think twice about kicking out” other backbenchers.