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Brexit: Commons vote exposes delusion and divisions afflicting British politics

Inside Politics: May secures backing for amendment calling for backstop to replaced as Europe dismisses reopening of withdrawal talks

Moments before the crucial vote in the House of Commons last night, a Tory cabinet minister arrived into the chamber singing a tuneless song loud enough for journalists to hear. Its gist was: “La da la da dee. We have got the DUP.”

He might have been better singing the key lyrics of the Eagles classic song Hotel California: "You can check out anytime you want. But you can never leave."

The votes on the seven amendments in the House of Commons last night highlighted a number of things, and all of them were worrying. Mainly it was the delusion and divisions afflicting British politics, not just within the Conservatives but also within Labour.

In the end enough Tories herded behind the amendment tabled by Graham Brady, the chair of the influential backbench 1922 committee. It called for the backstop - the guarantee that keeps the borders between North and South on the island of Ireland open - to be abolished and replaced by some “alternative”.


What that alternative is was never spelled out in the Commons yesterday by Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, despite the frustrated pleas for clarification from moderate independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon, the only Northern Irish MP to vote against the amendment.

The DUP supported it, as did the European Research Group of Eurosceptics, headed by Jacob Rees-Mogg. The Scottish Nationalist Party in Westminster claimed the amendment drove a coach and horse through the Good Friday Agreement. That was angrily denied by Nigel Dodds who said the DUP was committed to open borders.

The vote in the end was 317 to 301 and now allows British prime minister Theresa May a mandate to go to Europe to reopen a withdrawal agreement she herself signed up to.

There is little chance of a reopening, however, unless Donald Tusk et al are just hanging tough. Both the EU Council president and the Irish Government said the withdrawal agreement was not open for renegotiation.

Here is our main report on last night's vote.

Having said that, getting rid of the backstop is the issue clearly identified where there is a Commons majority. With so much at stake, it’s hard to see how such an obdurate defence can be sustained, especially if the only alternative is a crash-landing Brexit.

The question remains: What is the alternative that will keep the Border open? Is it another instance of magical-thinking politics?

Brexit exposes Labour pains

As with the Tory party, there are still divisions in the Labour Party. A senior member of Labour, Yvette Cooper, had an amendment that would in effect have put back ratification by nine months.

That would have given breathing space, allowing the exploration of other options like a second referendum. In the event Cooper’s amendment was defeated by over 20 votes. There were a few Tories who had supported her including Nick Boles, Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry.

But what was most disconcerting from a Labour point of view was that there were 12 members of her own party who voted against her amendment, and a further 17 who abstained. That included five members of the shadow cabinet.

That in itself caused a row, with a lot of criticism directed by middle-of-the-road Labour supporters at leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was never too keen on Cooper’s amendment.

He has put forward a Labour Party amendment that would look for a No deal and some form of customs union between the UK and the EU.

Crucially, the amendment did not contain language that would allow a second referendum, something Corbyn and his supporters have never been enthusiastic about.

But the charges that Corbyn and his supporters had somehow sabotaged the Cooper amendment does not hold up. The 12 who voted against were an eclectic mix of pro-Brexiters like Kate Hoey and Denis Skinner and MPs whose constituencies voted strongly Leave in the 2016 referendum.

There was one change though. Corbyn last night signalled he is prepared to meet Theresa May. Could we see a united front against the backstop?

Here is the Guardian report on the internal Labour divisions.

Best Reads

Unsurprisingly Brexit dominates our pages this morning.

Denis Staunton argues the backstop alternatives must be spelled out.

Academic Anthony Barnett describes Brexit as a very British civil war.

Yesterday the Department of Finance issued a report saying a no-deal Brexit could increase unemployment in the State by 2 per cent, and have a big impact on rural Ireland. Here is Cliff Taylor's analysis.

Elsewhere Martin Wall lays out the context for the nurses' strike, which is starting today.

Miriam Lord's take on Oireachtas proceedings also majors on Brexit.



10.30: Parliamentary questions for Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan.

12.00: Leaders’ Questions. Brexit will dominate.

15.35: The Dáil will debate a Fianna Fáíl motion on juvenile crime statistics. This was the subject of an apology from Garda Commissioner Drew Harris last week.

17.35: The National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Bill 2018 is at Second Stage. This is the ‘rainy day’ fund with an initial injection of €2 billion and annual instalments of €500 million.

Then there is the Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018 and the second stage of a Bill brought forward by Noel Rock and Stephen Donnelly, the Prohibition of Above-cost Ticket Touting Bill 2017.

22.15: Dáil adjourns

Seanad Eireann

10.30: Commencement Matters

12.45: Hallmarking (Amendment) Bill 2016. Then there is the Companies (Amendment) Bill 2019.

14.30: Statements on housing before debate continues on the Criminal Law (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction) Bill 2018.

The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 is down for three hours of debate. But given the filibustering yesterday over Shane Ross’s Bill, it is unlikely to be debated tonight.


9.00: Select Committee on Justice and Equality is considering the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 with Minister of State Finian McGrath.

9.00: The Joint Committee on Health is looking at the implications of Brexit for the health sector.

9.30: The Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs is on Oberstown Children Detention Campus with officials and experts.

10.00: The Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport is examining the role of the Irish Coast Guard.

14.30: The Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is examining the policies of the Abbey Theatre to coproduce productions. Actors and directors have said it has had a negative knock-on impact on them.