Another so-called crunch moment for Brexit turned out to be more of the same: nothing has changed. The Commons voted on a series of amendments last night that could have led to Labour’s Brexit plan, Article 50 extension or ‘indicative votes’, but these options were all rejected. Almost every proposal backed by Labour was voted down by MPs, with the help of rebels who voted against them or abstained (including eight shadow ministers). The only Labour-endorsed amendment that passed was Spelman/Dromey, which expressed opposition to ‘no deal’ but in a non-legally binding way. As noted on LabourList before the votes, some Labour MPs (particularly in Leave seats) thought this was “clearer in political will” than Cooper’s plan, which could have forced Theresa May to take a March ‘no deal’ exit off the table.
The Brady amendment was successful, however. Championed by the Brexiteer ERG group, the government and the DUP at the last minute, this supports May’s deal as long as the Irish backstop is “replaced with alternative arrangements”. ‘What are these “alternative arrangements”?’ you may ask. Well, don’t bother. Technology-something-something is the answer you’ll likely get. In classic Brexit Groundhog Day style, Tory MPs have just reheated the old ‘max fac’ plan, discredited months ago and already rejected by the EU. Which, as it happens, has also ruled out reopening the withdrawal agreement.
The government is spinning the latest Brexit votes as turning a 230-strong defeat into a victory. This is, of course, laughable when the victory is for an amendment that literally rejects the main sticking point in the government’s own deal, and calls for something that can’t be achieved in the next two weeks. (The next meaningful vote will be on 14th February if no new deal is agreed by then. The PM apparently doesn’t mind antagonising those MPs and, er, LabourList editors with Valentine’s Day plans.)
Following the votes, Jeremy Corbyn announced he would halt his boycott – now that parliament has rejected ‘no deal’ (albeit symbolically) – and meet with the Prime Minister to put forward Labour’s Brexit “points of view”. He is expected to do so today. But it’s clear that May isn’t ready to consider shifting towards customs union membership yet because she has chosen to continue prioritising Tory unity for now. The PM may have won good headlines this morning, incredibly, but this is simply more can-kicking. The EU could maintain its refusal to reopen the agreement yet compromise on a legal codicil, i.e. an anti-backstop bit stuck on the end. But will that be enough for Tory Brexiteers? We’ll find out when MPs do this all over again in a couple of weeks’ time.