Morning Briefing: Tory 'unity' breaks down - 40 Labour MPs rebel - uphold Soubry promise
Two weeks ago the prime minister was boasting that she had reunited the Tories and pundits were writing off the People’s Vote. How the tables have turned. Theresa May suffered another humiliating defeat in Parliament yesterday, when MPs voted against the government’s current Brexit strategy by 303 votes to 258.
The defeat undoes the “victory” May won on January 29. Both pro-European and hard-Brexit Conservatives, which voted with her then, turned on the PM yesterday. It shows her party is no longer united behind even her “unicorns plus” model, with May shuttling between London, Brussels and other EU capitals seeking changes to the Irish border “backstop” which may never emerge.
Parliament can’t unite behind a deal as nothing on offer fulfils the promises the Leavers made in 2016, or is as good as our current special status within the EU. May’s strategy is simply to kill time – running down the clock until Brexit day, when she believes MPs will have to fall in line and vote for her deal.
This is quite a big assumption, and we’ll see how it plays out on February 27 when the prime minister must present her alternative plan to Parliament. If – as seems likely – MPs shoot that down too, the pressure will build for the government to seek an extension of Article 50.
Fortunately MPs very much have it within their power to pull that off. A strategy being pulled together by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tories Oliver Letwin and Caroline Spelman is already emerging as a key obstacle for the government at the end of the month.
And if May attempts to stand her ground and ignore calls for an extension, she may yet be undone by her own party. Ministers including Amber Rudd and David Gauke are rumoured to be willing to resign and pass legislation forcing the prime minister to act rather than see a no-deal Brexit come to pass.
But even an extension of Article 50 simply kicks the problem down the road. We will end up in exactly the same place in a few months. The only realistic way to break the deadlock in the Commons is to put the matter back to the country in a People’s Vote.
Quote of the Day
“Theresa May’s huge defeat in the House of Commons tonight confirms that Brexit has now descended into not only a political mess but a national humiliation. The Prime Minister is continuing to run the clock down at a time when MPs of all sides need to consider the national interest and the future of jobs and security.”
Labour MP Stephen Doughty
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40 Labour MPs rebel
Opposition to Jeremy Corbyn’s foot-dragging Brexit tactics broke into the open yesterday, when more than 40 Labour MPs backed an SNP amendment calling for an extension to Article 50. Pressure within the party is continuing to build, with both frontbenchers and backbenchers angry and frustrated. It’s no wonder that shadow Treasury minister Clive Lewis is concerned that, if Labour help to facilitate “a Tory Brexit”, they will be blamed for it at the ballot box.
If Corbyn wants to keep his party together – and have a functioning economy to work with if he wins the next election – he should follow the policy adopted at last year’s party conference, and back a People’s Vote.
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Government now needs to honour Soubry promise
Anna Soubry may have withdrawn her amendment calling on the government to publish “the most recent official briefing document” on the consequences of a no-deal Brexit, but only because the battle was already won. The government has indicated that David Lidington will meet with Soubry and publish the requested information. If this doesn’t happen, May will have burned trust, the amendment will go back on the table, and could well secure enough support to inflict yet another defeat on the government.
Tweet of the Day
Heidi Allen MP points out that it was inevitable that we would find ourselves with no deal and no plan as soon as the government allowed itself to be ransomed by the European Research Group.
Weren’t EU car makers supposed to get us a good deal?
Large European manufacturers are sick of Brexit and want the European Commission to either commit to a lengthy extension of Article 50, or take the plunge and watch the UK leave without a deal. The problem for companies is that planning for a potential no-deal Brexit is costly and centred around certain key dates. A short extension followed by a no-deal exit – or a series of extensions with their own cliff-edges to be hedged – would be ruinously expensive. This is a far cry from the world the Leavers promised us in 2016, where German car makers and Italian prosecco producers would be begging us for a good deal. The mood among car manufacturers today is to simply let us go.
What's your reason?
Better together: Meet the Brexit couples awaiting their fate after March 29 (Evening Standard)
Top Brexit comment
Polly Toynbee: History will not forgive May’s reckless push to the no-deal precipice (Guardian)
Gary Younge: Britain needs more time on Brexit, but we shouldn’t entrust it to Theresa May (Guardian)
Today, Friday 15th February
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