Westminster was largely taken by surprise when the Commons defeated Labour’s latest move to block no deal yesterday – particularly with a difference of 11 votes, a smaller margin than the Cooper amendment loss but still significant in these knife-edge Brexit votes. 10 Remainer Conservative MPs defied their party whip to support the cross-party motion that would have given control of the parliamentary agenda to MPs for one day. A few more intentionally abstained. But it wasn’t enough to make up for the eight Labour MPs who opposed the motion and the few who actively abstained (most of those with ‘no vote recorded’ were authorised absences). Check out the full lists of rebels here.
We are one step closer to no deal, which is an outcome that I think only one Labour MP prefers over leaving with a deal. (Although some of the Labour Leavers’ preferences for a deal rely on the belief, shared by many Tory Brexiteers, that a backstop-free one is possible to negotiate.) Why, then, did so many not seize the opportunity to give parliament some control over the Brexit process in what might have been the perfect moment, when there is barely a functioning government?
Apart from the most obvious reason, that their constituents simply want them to ‘get on with it’, some are hopeful that there will be another opportunity to vote for a deal. Gareth Snell, who abstained, revealed in the debate that he regretted voting against Theresa May’s deal and would “now vote for a deal if a deal is brought forward”. If that’s not the case because the next Prime Minister fails to secure some kind of agreeable ‘alternative arrangements’ solution and doesn’t put the withdrawal agreement back to the Commons, there is an assumption that there will be another opportunity to block no deal. Perhaps at the very last minute.
Big risks are being taken, but we don’t know quite how big yet. That’s why we should keep a close eye on the Tory leadership contest. It enters its next phase today – the first round of voting, which will see at least one candidate eliminated. Each hopeful needs the support of 16 colleagues to make it through. We’re already aware that outsiders such as Mark Harper and Rory Stewart don’t have a chance. The most important thing is that the results, expected around lunchtime, will give some indication as to how close Boris Johnson is to getting through to the head-to-head. Once he hits 105, only Tory members can stop him, and we know they won’t. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.