The interesting thing about the second Meaningful Vote was that there were 39 Tory ‘switchers’, MPs who had previously voted against Theresa May’s deal.
LONDON: This week has been a sorry one in Westminster, described as chaos and “mayhem” with all the unintended consequences of last-minute caveats and amendments. 12 March began with a frenzy of legal and political analysis over the adjustments the Prime Minister brought back from Brussels, to the draft Withdrawal Agreement (WA) and the Framework for a Future Relationship (FFR) with the European Union (EU). These were an arbitration mechanism that was supposed to commit EU to the best endeavours/good faith about implementing the backstop and a statement to expedite the future relationship. Both were not considered actual changes and even Attorney General Geoffrey Cox was not able to say they eliminated the risk of UK being stuck in a permanent Customs Union, with the final arbitration remaining in the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which isn’t exactly UK regaining sovereignty. Thus, the PM’s deal was rejected by the House of Commons for a second time by a majority of 149. The interesting thing about this second Meaningful Vote (MV) was that there were 39 Tory “switchers”, MPs who had previously voted against Theresa May’s deal, but were now trapped by the circumstance of voting to pass it. The reason for this was the fear that Remainers have now hijacked the negotiations both in Brussels and in Westminster. Serious long term Eurosceptic MPs such as David Davis, former Brexit Secretary, and Zac Goldsmith felt compelled/cornered to vote for May’s deal as it was the only means of breaking away (in part) from the EU into what has been called by one insider as “government by no alternative”.
On 13 March, UK announced that under No Deal 87% of imports will have zero tariffs with no border checks in Northern Ireland, except for plants and animals coming from the EU. This will be followed by the motion to vote on the option of a No Deal and a slew of related amendments tabled by MPs. But it was not simple as a sneaky government caveat appeared on the motion, “that this House declines to approve leaving the EU without a WA and a framework for the future relationship on 29 March 2019 and notes leaving without a deal remains the default in UK and EU unless the House and the EU ratify an agreement”. This supposed vote to eliminate No Deal/WTO rules, the Remainer preference, contained a curious appeasement to Brexiteers and the European Research Group (ERG) to keep No Deal on the table, but at the same time directed MPs to extinguish the No Deal option. However, MP Dame Caroline Spelman tabled a contrary amendment explicitly disallowing the UK to leave without a WA and FFR (i.e. a permanent rejection of No Deal); after manic confusion amongst MPs this was passed resulting in a contradiction being attached to the government motion. As the unintended consequences kicked in, the government panicked and the free vote instantly turned into a whipped session against the government’s own motion. However, the whipping failed and the government lost the No Deal default position, banishing No Deal by 321 to 278.
Thursday 14 March, was due to be the vote on extending Article 50 beyond 29 March, but suddenly unexpected caveats divided this extension into short term and long term. The house voted 412 to 202 for the option that postpones Brexit until after 30 June, providing a deal is agreed by 20 March. This was a bitter pill to swallow for the 188 Conservative MPs that voted against it, including the eight Cabinet Ministers. So, Parliament is faced with the same old unacceptable deal in MV3 this week. May’s callous refrain of My Deal or No Brexit now becomes the harsh reality. If the deal is not passed in MV3 then the EU holds all cards relating to the extension; most likely they would demand extra extension time in the hope UK finds a way to ditch the whole idea of leaving the EU.
Many MPs true to the 2016 referendum result feel they have no choice but to vote for May’s deal; by design or default May has placed the UK in a subservient position to the EU, a supplicant for an extension to Article 50 and subject to the whims/conditions imposed by Jean Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier.
But the outlook for Brexit is not totally bleak, all the votes in Westminster are just votes, and are not legally binding. The ERG and the DUP know that if May’s deal is not passed by MV3, she could be forced to resign while the miracle cure for Brexit would still be available. If Parliament does not revoke Article 50 by repealing the 2018 Withdrawal Act, which would require a government Minister to introduce a bill to repeal the act (that no MP is likely to pass), then legally UK’s default position is to still leave the EU with No Deal.