Another night of Brexit votes, another significant defeat for Theresa May. Last night, Yvette Cooper moved the motion that its main signatory, Tory Caroline Spelman, had unsuccessfully tried to withdraw. The Prime Minister had tabled a ‘no deal’ motion, but it wasn’t the straightforward rejection that the Commons wanted to express, so the Spelman-turned-Cooper amendment passed against the wishes of the government. Chaotic scenes. Cabinet ministers defied the Tory whip to abstain, and their defiance was ignored in the clearest evidence yet of May being ‘in office but not in power’. (If you missed all the action, read this run-through of what happened, with vote results, lists of Labour rebels and Jeremy Corbyn’s response at the despatch box.)
After trying to sneak through a ‘no deal’ motion that actually repeated her ‘my deal or no deal’ refrain, May is now attempting a similar trick with the Article 50 extension vote tonight. The Commons was appalled when Speaker Bercow revealed that the motion tabled by the government was not a clear-cut proposal for delaying Brexit, but a barely veiled threat. On the basis of MPs rejecting both May’s deal and no deal, the PM says at least a short extension will be sought, i.e. we’re definitely not leaving on 29th March. The motion goes on to explain that if MPs fail to agree a deal by Wednesday 20th, the extension length would be decided by the EU and possibly much longer. So unfolds what Olly Robbins said at that Parisian bar last month: ‘my deal or no deal’ has become ‘my deal or no Brexit’. That’s how she hopes to drive her deal through, with the votes of Brexiteers, at the third meaningful vote next week.
What happens now? The ERG are split: Jacob Rees-Mogg is making positive noises; Steve Baker remained defiant in the chamber. As usual, a lot depends on the DUP. Will Labour Leave seat representatives be pushed into rebelling? How many? Too early to tell, but it’s true that they are highly uncomfortable with a long extension. Most of that group said they would only vote to delay Brexit tonight if it were short and for a specific reason (approving a deal with a different future relationship).
The amendments selected are likely to be crucial today, as they were last night. There are the ones already on the order paper, including Labour’s official amendment, which doesn’t explicitly mention another referendum but simply requests “parliamentary time for this House to find a different approach”. Then there are the manuscript proposals being tabled before 10.30am, not yet on the order paper. An ‘indicative votes’ one is expected, as I said in the morning email yesterday, and this would offer MPs the chance to vote on all the possibilities, from a ‘people’s vote’ to Common Market 2.0. This is essentially the same as Labour’s official amendment, but has a good chance of passing when set out under the names of Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin rather than the leader of the opposition.
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