No-deal Brexit dies on the floor of the House of Commons
Tory rebels, growing in strength, help tilt the balance towards a soft Brexit
The option of a no-deal Brexit had been ailing for months, starved of credibility by Theresa May’s failure to make preparations for it and by mounting evidence of its catastrophic impact on the British economy. On the floor of the House of Commons on Tuesday, it died.
Brexiteers at Westminster on Tuesday night sought to play down the grievousness of their latest setback, celebrating the government’s success in rejecting the Lords amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill on a meaningful vote for parliament on the Brexit deal.
They pointed out that the prime minister had only committed to making a statement to MPs within a week of an agreement and to consider giving them a vote on the outcome of negotiations. And they said there was no question of the government backing former attorney general Dominic Grieve’s proposal that MPs should be empowered to direct ministers on how to negotiate if there was no deal by next February.
But the rebels made clear that, if the government’s new amendment failed to offer a meaningful vote to MPs, the Lords would adopt the Grieve amendment next week, sending it back to the Commons for another showdown. Tuesday’s debate displayed the growing strength of the Tory rebels, with new additions including former education secretary Justine Greening and Phillip Lee, who resigned as a justice minister hours before the vote.
Message to Brussels
Regardless of the fate of the amendment, the prime minister’s climbdown sent a clear message to Brussels that there is no majority in the British parliament for a no-deal Brexit. The government is likely to defeat the remaining Lords amendments on Wednesday but the Tory rebels will have another opportunity to flex their muscles next month when they debate an amendment to the trade Bill calling for Britain to remain in a customs union with the EU.
The Commons votes shift the terrain on which Britain’s negotiations with the EU will be conducted between now and October, just as the debate over the Border backstop has allowed May to propose something close to a customs union and full regulatory alignment for years after Brexit.
The shift towards a soft Brexit owes much to the tenacity and courage of Conservative rebels who have been demonised in the pro-Brexit press, faced obscene abuse on social media and threats to kill them, their families and their staff that have been serious enough to warrant prosecution and in some cases convictions.