Hardline Tory MPs on both sides of the Brexit divide risk tearing the Party in two with their reckless intransigence, says Patrick Maxwell.

Theresa May's deal is being slowly dragged towards extinction. The vote on Tuesday night, which condemned the battered Withdrawal Agreement to defeat in the Commons, may not be the final nail in the coffin of the much-chastised deal. By a political miracle, Mrs May might be able to extract something from Europe and set a precedent to force the deal through. But that seems nigh on impossible now. That leads us down the corridor of uncertainty, hurtling towards the daunting sceptre of no-deal. The Government is supposedly being prepared for such an eventuality, but the political scene and the Tory Party most certainly are not. Those who wish to unnecessarily inflict WTO terms on the country should be careful what they wish for. Crashing out on the 29th of March would risk their political futures and jeopardize much of the UK's economic stability and attractiveness. The sky will not fall in, by hoping for the 'cleanest' Brexit possible will not bode well for the Party at the ballot box, and could lead to the end of the current Conservative Party as we know it.

Those who want to pursue the hardest possible form of Brexit to fulfill their ideological desires are not, to use Mrs May's language, 'acting in the national interest.' They have been presented with Brexit on a plate and decided to reject it. No, it is not in any way an exemplary deal, nor does it give the UK complete control over some issues. But that is negotiation, you take some and you lose some. Those who were hoping that May's Lancaster House speech was going to be copied and pasted into the Withdrawal Agreement were deluding themselves. The EU were always going to ask for concessions.

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With the current deal being heavily rejected, there remains, apart from a second referendum, only one 'real' version of Brexit that the ERG will realistically promote: No-deal. The very idea of not having a functioning political and negotiated arrangement with the largest trading block in the world is enough to strike fear among many Tory MPs. It will most certainly compel a large number of Cabinet ministers to resign in protest, leaving Theresa May and the government as a whole in an even more precarious position. At this moment of Parliamentary deadlock, the Prime Minister needs as many friends as she can get, and an accidental no-deal will certainly lead to her demise and potentially lead to the ultimate enemy, in a Corbyn government. Letting no-deal through will not be a good selling point for the Tories at the next election.

Whatever happens will not, however, be completely of May's doing. Those who continue to vote down the deal will be, consciously or not, leading the country into a no-deal scenario or the prospect of no Brexit at all. Extending Article 50 will only serve to increase the torture of the drawn-out process.

The magnitude of May's defeat on Tuesday showed clearly that that time is no healer when it comes to Brexit. Theresa May's only option to survive this further uncertainty is to pursue a strategy to win over softer Brexiteers to try and avoid the no-deal Cabinet exodus. Although her attempts to win over Labour MPs failed miserably in the Meaningful Vote, it has become clear that consistent failure has done nothing to deter No10 for over two years. They have realised, however, that it is impossible to win over the hardliners. Those in the Tory Party who will in the end never accept any kind of negotiated Brexit put before them, even if it means putting any Brexit at all at risk. Those who supported a Norway-style free trade arrangement in the referendum and now dismiss anything other other than no-deal as a gross betrayal of the interests of all Leave voters. Those who will never have to bear the brunt of their decisions, with safe seats and more than a comfortable amount in the bank. Their minds are fixed, their view entrenched and May has finally realised that any effort to persuade them of her deal is futile.

Brexit has proved itself to be the drug on which all MPs are hooked upon. With every option available unpopular, the chances of no-deal increase by the hour. Theresa May's failure to win round potential supporters is lamentable. So also is her opponents' inability to accept any form of compromise. The Tory Party, the 'natural party of government,' has been through many a skirmish. Brexit may just be the final nail in the coffin of Conservative unity, however. There is no obvious alternative for Brexit, but those who endeavour to see us sliding out with no agreement at all may also sight their former colleagues deserting as well.

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