It’s no wonder Theresa May didn’t turn up to face the music last night – it was her 11th Brexit defeat in 14 months, according to the Times. After a while turning up to admit humiliation must become a chore. Jeremy Corbyn tore into the PM for her no-show, arguing there was ‘no majority’ for her deal.
But as ever, the defeats reflected division more than unity. While May’s (amended) Brexit statement was routed, Labour’s own motion demanding an early ‘meaningful vote’ was also thrown out by 16 votes. It’s not just the PM ‘running down the clock’ – it’s Parliament itself. Many of last night’s results owed more to the European Research Group’s antics (abstaining on the government’s motion) than anything else.
And while the ‘Valentine’s Day split’ did not take place yesterday, the rumours have not died away. The reality is that that more Labour MPs broke the whip to vote for the SNP’s motion to delay Brexit by a year than there are SNP MPs. 41 Labour Remainers backed the move – going beyond the alleged ‘plotters’ (Leslie, Berger, Umunna et al). It’s quite a bloc.
Meanwhile four Labour MPs – the usual suspects – backed the PM’s statement: Ian Austin, Kevin Barron, John Mann, Jim Fitzpatrick. The first three voted for May’s deal in mid-January, while all four were among the 14 rebels who opposed Yvette Cooper’s leadership-backed Article 50 extension at the end of January.
This morning, those two camps – Remainers and Leavers – remain in the same party. Yesterday Clive Lewis said Labour would be ‘destroyed’ if it ushered in a ‘Tory Brexit’ – warning the party could go the same way as the Lib Dems. But BuzzFeed report that some Remainers are keen to quit the party ‘as early as the weekend’. While the break-up date is an ever-moving feast, that doesn’t mean it has been cancelled. Meanwhile Leave-backing Labour MPs are also threatening to walk if Corbyn backs a second vote.
For the Labour leadership, constructive ambiguity appears the only option to delay a split. Frontbenchers are notably absent from the airwaves this morning.
That left Brexit Select Committee chair Hilary Benn to suggest on Radio 4 that a second referendum was still on the cards. But what’s new?
As Labour’s wings plan their next steps, only one thing is clear: no one is ‘winning’ the Brexit battle, and a split will do little to change that fact.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.