Theresa May’s Brexit deal is set to be defeated, heavily, for a second time when MPs vote from 7pm tonight. Attorney general Geoffrey Cox’s legal advice can be summed up, as Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds said in his response, with the words “nothing has changed”.
Although the new legally-binding provisions “reduce” the risk of being trapped indefinitely in the backstop, there are still “no internationally lawful means of exiting the protocol’s arrangements, save by agreement”, Cox concluded. The DUP and the ERG’s ‘star chamber’ of Brexiteer lawyers have essentially said it’s not enough.
With another thumping defeat for the deal on its way, Westminster is asking: what next? One alternative being touted is the future amendment of Labour backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, which would see Labour MPs allow May’s deal to pass – either by abstaining or by voting for it – on the condition that it is ‘put to the people’ in another referendum. But LabourList hears that at a meeting of Labour Leave-seat MPs last night, despite the contributions of former YouGov president Peter Kellner, the proposal didn’t do down well.
There are a number of concerns. For those most sympathetic to the idea, they are worried about abstention – considered an embarrassing course of action on the most important issue of our times – but also about voting for the deal – because they hate it, don’t want to rescue the Prime Minister, etc.
That brings us to another problem: can MPs really put May’s deal on the ballot paper after attacking it so viciously and emphatically voting it down twice? Doesn’t that stack the odds against Remain, in what would be seen by the public as a cynical and unfair move?
And finally, we come to the argument made publicly by MPs including Lisa Nandy and Jon Cruddas, now gaining traction among members of the PLP. They cannot see how ‘no deal’, a popular option with voters according to polls, can be left off the ballot paper and still have the vote be seen as legitimate. And they don’t want to include it either, as they would deem that highly irresponsible.
‘People’s vote’ campaigners will have to overcome all of the above, plus the doubts Leave-seat MPs have about sending such a nuanced message to their constituencies. John McDonnell has said that there would be a Labour whip in favour of the amendment when it is tabled, but that the leadership would be ‘understanding’ of MPs’ choices. It looks like even if events allow their plan to be heard, Kyle/Wilson and supporters would have a very tough job getting Commons approval.