After two days of crucial votes in Parliament, every pundit and commentator is scratching their head. While the meaningful vote on Tuesday was a predicted loss for the Government, Wednesday’s proceedings have thrown several spanners into an already spluttering machine. Our Deputy Political Editor, Daniel Reast, summarises another bumper midweek in political history.
• MPs have voted a Motion that rules out a No-Deal Brexit in principle, by 321 MPs in favour and 278 against (Majority: 43).
• Because some government ministers decided to go against the Government’s whips and back the motion or abstain, Brexiters are calling for their being sacked.
• The Government has tabled a motion for this Thursday to give MPs a chance to instruct the Prime Minister to ask the EU for an extension to the exit date of 29 March. But its wording opens up the possibility that a ‘Meaningful Vote’ 3.0 might be back in the Commons by 20 March.
I was one MP off my prediction for Tuesday’s second spasm of the meaningful vote. A 149-strong majority against Theresa May’s polished deal has secured another double page spread in the political history books. The Prime Minister struggled to obtain any clear marker for her opponents that the notorious backstop could facilitate a unilateral withdrawal. In layman’s terms, if a future negotiation was not in the UK’s favour, they could withdraw without any legal problems with the EU.
A bit like a cowboy builder putting up a lovely extension for your bungalow, and downing tools when all the plastering needs doing.
The star of Tuesday’s calamity for May’s side was the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, who treaded the boards once again with his best Othello. Cox was called to the despatch box, and proceeded to stand on top, pull down his trousers, and crap all over the floor. In politer phrasing, he showed that May’s kind legalese would not give that all important ‘duck and go’ mandate.
Theresa May, who had a croaky throat from all that fire-breathing she did in Strasbourg the previous day, had the colour drained from her face as she listened to her court jester-in-robes trash her deal. Cox did not hold back, he decimated any warm handshakes or coffees that May had enjoyed during the forced weeks of renegotiation. Should’ve washed her hands, it’s no wonder she’s got the lurgy.
Meaningful vote #2 was a loss for May’s Brexit deal. However, the one person who should be watering the blossoming seeds of chaos happened to be reading an auto-cue. Unfortunately for Jeremy Corbyn, the auto-cue was in seven different languages, upside down, and on fire. He bombed worse than Geoffrey Cox’s last dinner party. (It was murder mystery, but only David Davis turned up. And his political career died months ago – so it weren’t much fun.)
Corbyn genuinely looked like Michael Foot yesterday. He stumbled up to the box and forced out a few bits of jargon, and somehow lost his sense of time and place. “Sorry Jeremy, I don’t think I caught that right... You want to renegotiate the deal on Labour’s terms?” As Corbyn dug up old cadavers, though you could not directly see – the faces on Labour’s backbenches, and across the House, plummeted to the floor. He won’t read this but Corbyn, if you’re listening:
If May’s deal has failed TWICE, what makes you think yours will even get to paper??
It’s the EU I feel sorry for. Michel Barnier sent out a cheeky live tweet amidst the chaos of pre-voting on Tuesday.
So, Tuesday came and left its leavings on the green benches, and Wednesday decided to smear it into the seams. I still don’t quite know what happened to be honest. Two amendments selected along with the main motion; a chance for No-Deal to truly be put to the floor of the House, with added meaningful non-vote happenings.
Amendment A encountered a slight hitch when Caroline Spelman, who tabled the amendment, decided she wanted to withdraw it. Obviously Julian Smith and some of the bovver boys from the Whips Office threatened to break her Royal Doulton China or bend the corners of her Maeve Binchy collection. Luckily, a hero arrived on a white horse. Dressed in golden armour, with red ribbons and banners behind like a Labour Party Lannister – Yvette ‘No Quarrels’ Cooper rode to save the day, and moved the amendment ahead.
The Spelman amendment was to definitively reject a No-Deal exit. It passed by four votes. Or as they say in the Commons tea rooms, ‘by the hair on Sir Vince’s head’.
So we’re getting excited now, the crowd of onlookers is nervously clutching order papers and sipping mineral water. The ERG have officially lost all their fingernails from the nervous biting. Their No-Deal dreams potentially vanishing before them. Their one hope was the amendment by the Malthouse Compromise group, which would have pushed for a ‘Managed No-Deal’ with a small extension so they can move their money into Swiss bank accounts.
The Green amendment (tabled by Damian Green) was for a ‘Managed No-Deal’. It lost by 210 votes. Steve Baker’s hair spontaneously combusts. Mark Francois starts punching people. And Jacob Rees-Mogg wants to send a disappointed tweet, but he left his chalk and slate in his carriage.
The EU had categorically ruled out accepting an extension for managed no-deal. It was an amendment for the ERG to look pretty, and attempt a democratic overthrow of Parliament. And it failed, but they’re still in that corner sitting on their haemorrhoids and looking shifty. Don’t look away just yet.
Finally, and most importantly, the main motion tabled by the Government which is essentially the same principle as the Spelman amendment – a categorical rejection of No-Deal.
Theresa May must have overdosed on Strepsils. She whipped her party to vote against the motion which she had put down. She baked a cake, put it on the table, and said to her entire party “You cannot eat that cake under any circumstances!”
Think on these words:
The Government of the UK told itself to vote against itself.
Anyway, the vote was held and everyone rushed off to the lobbies. I can imagine the Conservatives were very confused. I hear Nadine Dorries ended up in the cleaning cupboard, and accidentally voted for Slovakia to win Eurovision. Remember, this is the final No-Deal vote which symbolises what MPs want.
The Prime Minister’s motion (voted against by the Prime Minister) was again to reject a No-Deal exit. It passed by a surprisingly comfortable 43 votes, meaning the Prime Minister lost. Against its own tabled motion. *sigh*
Less Labour rebels, and more Tory rebels clinched the win to once again reject a No-Deal. How wonderful, we can all go home and sleep until the next election.
This whole affair can be beautifully summarised by the voting actions of Government whip Mike Freer, who worked to impose a three-line whip on his party against the final motion – but actually voted in favour of it himself.
A government whip just made people vote for something which he didn’t even vote for.
It’s hugely important to point out, and this is crucial. Wednesday’s votes which give a Parliamentary survey on No-Deal are confetti in the wind. On the 29 March we will be leaving the EU without a deal. That is an assured legal definition – and will not change unless something happens in the next fifteen days.
So, what could happen?
Thursday’s vote is to probe for an extension to Article 50, giving the UK more time to sort its laundry out. I’d say this was likely to pass, but after today’s 85-dimentional politics, anything’s possible. Theresa May might vote for her motion, she might not. She might sleep in and forget about voting. Geoffrey Cox might finally play King Lear.
But unless there is an absolutely definitive decision made from today onwards – the outcome will still be a No-Deal Brexit.
There’s only two choices left for Parliament, regardless of extensions. Voting for the deal, not Corbyn’s, not the ERG’s, the one that has been sweated over for two years. Or you revoke Article 50. An extension to organise a public vote is in danger of not being accepted by the EU. An election or a referendum is a woolly gesture to the EU. An election would be diabolical. A referendum would be incredibly painful, but at least focused on Brexit and the other multitude of catastrophes in the UK.
An extension is probably likely to be passed by Parliament, but as Guy Verhofstadt has tweeted – what’s the point?
I’m surprised people have started stockpiling alcohol more. After all this is finished, there won’t be enough left in the EU to cope with the aftermath, let alone the present. Charge your glasses, it’s not over till Geoffrey Cox does his best Harold Pinter monologue.🔷
What happens next with Brexit? We’ve got you covered... Read our updated “Path to Brexit... or no Brexit.”
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)