Kevin Schofield: Today's Number 10 lobby briefing was a classic of the genre
So much for what we were told about the meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
Downing Street lobby briefings are like a game of cat and mouse. Journalists try to get new, revealing information out of Number 10, while Number 10 does its level best - understandably - not to tell us anything which could in any way be damaging for the prime minister.
There was a classic of the genre this morning as we tried to ascertain whether tomorrow night’s meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, which she is certain to lose, would still go ahead. Adding an extra note of drama was the fact that the PM had unexpectedly arranged a conference call with her entire Cabinet for 11.30, some 30 minutes after lobby began.
Predictably, the first question to her spokeswoman was: “Is the vote definitely still happening tomorrow?” The answer was clear: “Yes.”
Another journalist then piped up: “Are there any circumstances in which the meaningful vote won’t go ahead tomorrow night? Once again, the spokeswoman was definitive: “The vote’s going ahead as planned.”
Just bear that in mind now that May is pulling the vote. Shortly after lobby, government sources said the PM would tell MPs about the delay in a Commons statement on Monday afternoon.
Amazingly, the spokeswoman also told us that the PM was “confident” of winning the vote, which now won't happen because, er, she’s going to lose it. When asked why, she responded: “The PM has always said this is the right deal and the best deal available and that MPs should support it.”
The spokeswoman also insisted that as far as the PM is concerned, the withdrawal agreement “has been agreed and negotiated”, but held out the possibility that the accompanying political declaration setting out the future relationship between the EU and UK could yet be tweaked.
It seems as though some new form of language may be cooked up which could seek to offer some comfort to Tory Brexiteers on the Northern Irish backstop. But will it be enough at this late stage? I have to say I very much doubt it.
This article first appeared in the PoliticsHome 'lobby lunch' email bulletin.