After significant pressure, Theresa May agreed to a series of votes this week to test the opinion of the House of Commons on Brexit. On Tuesday she put her deal to another vote after getting further minor concessions from the EU and still lost by 149 votes. This was a humiliating defeat. After slaving away all weekend, it was the attorney general, the government’s top legal officer, who was her undoing. After tweaks to the Irish backstop, he was still unable to say that the backstop could be left unilaterally by the UK. This was ultimately unacceptable to the DUP and Brexiteers in her party who killed the deal.
On Wednesday night, there was a vote to “rule out” no deal and this is where things got worse for the Prime Minister. The motion she put to Parliament stated that the House of Commons rejects a no deal Brexit, but stated further that it was still the legal default position which could clearly be interpreted as a way of trying to leave no deal on the table. The Prime Minister has used the threat of no deal to try and get remainers to support her deal at the risk of falling off a cliff if they don’t. Due to this sting in the tail, an amendment was tabled to the Prime Minister’s motion to remove this last part to reinforce that the Commons rejects no deal in all scenarios. Even though the PM commanded the Conservatives to vote against the amendment, it passed by a majority of a miserly 2 due to a rebellion by some Conservative MPs. This is when chaos descended. At the beginning of the day, the government announced the PM’s motion would be a free vote because of the obvious gaping chasm between those at the top of her government who think no deal would be catastrophic, and those who think it’s a necessary bargaining chip to be used with the EU. However, due to the successful amendment, the government told its MPs to vote down its own motion. There were several senior ministers who, rather than vote against their conscience to remove no deal, decided to abstain on the motion. In ordinary times, this would mean that they would be sacked immediately due to collective responsibility. Collective responsibility is the idea that in government, all ministers agree to always take the government line on any policy or vote in return for their position as a minister to dictate policy. With these abstentions this rejection of “no deal” was approved by the Commons. Whilst this motion has no legal force and the UK could still leave the EU on the 29th March without a deal, it is becoming increasingly unlikely as it would require bad faith on the side of the government and the EU.
This vote was a clear sign of the PM’s power slipping away further as she can’t even control her senior minister, let alone command a clear majority in the House of Commons. Her authority has been shot and it is hard to see how she can govern much further with the total loss of discipline now within her own government. The only quality Theresa May appears to have as a leader is her belligerence, and she will carry on until she is removed, and she has now decided the best course of action is to try and get her vote through for a third time. She got her margin of defeat down from 230 to 149 between the last two votes, so who can blame her for going again. Perhaps because what the country needs isn’t the political equivalent of the “devil finger” kid from CBBC, who would claim his finger was possessed by the devil as he poked and annoyed people into submission. In my opinion, Theresa May’s Brexit deal isn’t that bad, all it does is set out the terms for us leaving the EU and very little, if anything, has actually been decided about our future trading arrangements with the EU. The Irish backstop is a necessary mechanism to avoid a hard border between the north and south of Ireland, and most of the opposition parties accept this, and this isn’t their main contention with the deal. The main problem throughout has been trust, or a lack of it. If Theresa May had brought Parliament along at the very beginning of the process and given Parliament an opportunity to find where a negotiated consensus could lie, she could have negotiated this with the EU and we would not be in this mess.
Theresa May’s strategy may just about get her over the line by holding a gun to everyone’s head in Parliament, but I doubt it. In all likelihood she will lose her vote again next week perhaps by a smaller margin of defeat, but all this defeat will ultimately do is waste yet more time. We are merely 2 weeks from our planned exit date which surely has to be delayed now, and we can’t be wasting time on failed strategies. The only thing that is becoming clearer by the day is this PM’s ineptitude and the need for her to go.