The Tory party faces a dilemma - only one solution will ensure their survival

There was, for a short time, a faint hope that the prime minister might be able to salvage the unlikeliest of victories for her deal. Not out of any merit on the part of the withdrawal agreement - but rather rumours that the desire of the ERG just to see Brexit happen would soften their resolved position against her deal. As we saw with particular clarity last week, the PM’s last great negotiating hope, Geoffrey Cox, was unable to secure anything palatable on the backstop. The ERG and DUP have not softened their position.

Photo: Raul Mee

The deal is (and should stay) dead. But we should not forget that the terms that Theresa May has negotiated are as good as it gets. This is no criticism of our PM. She spent years building a reputation for ruthless pragmatism in the Home Office. Her two years and a half years of government have been dedicated to round the clock negotiations, supported by hundreds of staff. When the dust settles, however, her greatest achievement will have been to prove that there is no deal better than our current one - full EU membership.

Once the Chequers deal hit the headlines in July, it became clear that Brexit could only be an unworkable and wholly unrealistic shell of what was promised in 2016. The promise we made in the manifesto of 2017 was to negotiate the best deal possible. That deal has been negotiated. It was comprehensively defeated in Parliament. 118 of those who voted it down were Conservatives. The margin of defeat was smaller last night. But not much.

Both Leavers and Remainers within the Party voted to support the Withdrawal Agreement last night. But it was right that the deal should fall - a deal that leaves us a rule taker, not a rule maker. A deal that takes away the opportunities within the EU that young people such as myself have benefited from for generations. A deal that hurts opportunity, damages business, and leaves us worse off and less in control of our lives than the deal that we have.

And yet, given the circumstances, this deal is among the best that any Prime Minister could have negotiated. After 40 years of membership we are so intertwined with EU laws, regulations, and business that it's simply not possible to walk away in any positive manner. There is no answer to the question of the Irish border, no matter how many times we return to Brussels to negotiate. Of course the EU insists on having a backstop; the UK would have insisted the same. As our Northern Irish group has argued - a backstop is just a responsible act of negotiation which preserves the Good Friday Agreement.

Now that the deal has fallen, the Conservatives - my party - face their biggest decision in modern history. The party no longer has the ability to remove the PM, following the ERG's failed rebellion. This means that its future direction is May’s choice to make. She can either side with the right wing of her party, or stick up for the moderates who have shaped the post-new-Labour Conservative revival. If she doesn’t plump for the latter, they may well join former colleagues such as Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen in The Independent Group.

Neither choice is easy. A majority of the grassroots and Tory associations undoubtedly want Brexit to happen, and may even go as far as to choose the uncertainty of a no-deal Brexit over no Brexit at all.

But these Conservatives do not represent our future. They may be in their heyday now, while the government lacks a majority in Parliament. But with their preference being a no-deal, which Parliament has voted against, their days of power are numbered. The choice that May will be making is not just about Brexit but also how future generations will judge Tory leaders when they head out to the electorate to fight elections.

Delivering a form of Brexit just to keep this group happy would show incredible myopia from a leader who has in the past had a reputation for ruthless pragmatism. She must instead do whatever it takes to keep the party open and a place for moderate and pragmatic voices. It is these Conservative voices that clamour for a People’s Vote. They may not be in the majority today, but if May were to put the decision back to the people, she would open the door to the return of moderate voices in the party and halt a worrying shift to the right.

When the deal is voted down for the final time, the mandate given by 17.4 million leave voters can, and should, be revisited. No scenario is perfect, but by calling a People's Vote, the government would have fulfilled their duty to its full extent, both to the British people and to their own party.

Ed Shackle is a Head of Growth for Our Future, Our Choice (OFOC), a national youth movement for a People’s Vote. He is also member of the committee of both Conservatives For A People's Vote, as well as Young Conservatives for a People’s Vote.