Commons vote demonstrates that majority opposes no-deal Brexit
First defeat on a finance bill in 40 years could have big political impact on what happens between now and March 29th
Michael Gove: he criticised MPs who risked making the perfect the enemy of the good by holding out for a better deal. File photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters
Yvette Cooper’s amendment restricting the British government’s taxation powers in the event of a no-deal Brexit may, as Downing Street said on Tuesday, have little practical impact.
Yet the first defeat for a government on a finance bill in 40 years could have a big political impact on what happens between now and when the UK is due to leave the EU on March 29th.
The victory was the result of an unusual exercise in cross-party co-operation that saw 20 Conservatives join the opposition to vote against the government. The rebels included six former ministers and included senior figures such as Michael Fallon and Nicholas Soames, usually solid government loyalists.
The vote demonstrated that there is a Commons majority against a no-deal Brexit, and the amendment’s backers are confident that their majority will grow as they table similar amendments to other bills in the coming weeks.
Conservative Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) were unsettled by the vote, which Steve Baker suggested was part of a conspiracy by the whips to frighten Eurosceptics into supporting Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
The government confirmed on Tuesday that MPs will vote on the prime minister’s deal next Tuesday, although there is no evidence that the prime minister is close to assembling a majority behind it.
She postponed a vote on the deal last month when it faced an overwhelming defeat, but Downing Street insists that MPs will vote on the deal next week come what may.
A modest defeat would allow May to return to Brussels in search of further clarifications or concessions on the backstop. However, a defeat by more than 100 would make it difficult for the prime minister to claim that her deal remains viable.
Rather than risk such a defeat the government could accept an amendment that would call on the prime minister to seek further assurances on the backstop. This would allow May to postpone the vote on her deal once again until she extracts further concessions from Brussels.
At Tuesday ’s cabinet meeting, Michael Gove criticised MPs who risked making the perfect the enemy of the good by holding out for a better deal. He said they were “like 50-year-olds at the end of the disco, who have turned down all other offers and are waiting for Scarlett Johansson to come along”.
The cross-party majority against a no-deal Brexit can flex its muscle every day for the next 12 weeks, but unless it can unite behind a single plan Britain will leave the EU on March 29th – deal or no deal.