This is the big day – oh, wait, no it isn’t. After repeatedly insisting she definitely wouldn’t delay the meaningful vote, Theresa May pulled the meaningful vote scheduled to take place today. Having admitted that her deal would have been heavily defeated in parliament, and realised she is not willing to run the risk of being toppled following such a decisive vote, the Prime Minister is now rushing around the continent to seek “reassurances” from EU leaders.
We saw dramatic scenes in parliament yesterday, and it’s easy to forget that what we were watching in the chamber was extraordinary. May succeeded in avoiding a vote on the decision to delay the meaningful vote (she would’ve lost that too), but her tricksiness came at the expense of any trust she had left amongst MPs. The Speaker called the move “deeply discourteous”, the opposition was rightly appalled and Tory MPs were absolutely furious with their own leader – some even later stood to back Labour’s call for an emergency debate. (This was, of course, granted by Bercow and will take place today.) Nobody outdid Labour’s Lloyd Russell-Moyle, though, who grabbed the mace in protest and had to be ordered out of the chamber. Absolute scenes.
The volume of intra-Labour arguments over Brexit have now been turned up a notch. This was always going to happen after the vote, but it is now oddly happening in a sort of limbo. The main row is over Jeremy Corbyn’s timing of a no-confidence vote: other opposition parties, particularly the SNP, have called on him to table the motion immediately, but the Labour leadership wants to bide its time (as forecast in yesterday’s morning email). Labour MPs supportive of a fresh referendum are also applying pressure. A letter organised by Ian Murray, signed by over 50 Labour MPs, MEPs and peers, makes no secret of their strategy: they know a no-confidence motion in the government wouldn’t pass now, however they also think this is the best way of moving Labour on to the “other options” on that fabled composite motion table. The other option in mind being a ‘people’s vote’.
The Labour leader’s office is clear that the party won’t be tabling the motion until after the deal is voted on. They argue that not only would it be lost, the move could actually unite Tories and encourage them to rally behind the PM. The difficulty is that we still don’t know when the meaningful will be held. Some Remainers worry that if May defers it until after Christmas, Corbyn will be helping her to run the clock down, such that her bad deal and no deal are the only choices left. The internal Labour disagreement comes back to the priorities of respective Brexit tribes: Corbyn foremostly wants a general election, followed by a renegotiation, whereas pro-PV backbench (largely Corbynsceptic) MPs want to stop Brexit altogether via another public vote or simply revoking Article 50.
One thing is certain: the “reassurances” that May brings back won’t be enough to satisfy the DUP, Labour or the hard Brexiteers in her party. Any remaining goodwill has been lost, the PM has said reopening the withdrawal agreement is too risky and the EU won’t be U-turning on the backstop. She has delayed the vote to delay a leadership election, but that contest may be on its way regardless.