Last Monday, the House of Lords voted by a large majority to support the meaningful vote amendment. Since then, all eyes have been on Theresa May and the House of Commons to see how they would react. Dominic Grieve’s amendment was intended to give a meaningful vote to parliament, at the end of the negotiating process. If the amendment was passed by the House of Commons, this would mean that parliament would decide on the next steps, i.e. in the event of no agreement in Westminster over the proposed deal. Should the amendment fail, then the power would remain with the government, and a ‘take it or leave it’ deal would be a far greater risk.
Before the debate and vote on Wednesday afternoon, considerable pressure was put on the potential Tory rebels, led by Grieve. Just last week, as many as 16 Tory MPs were willing to vote against the government when the amendment was first debated in the Commons.
Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain, says, “May managed to head off the rebellion by promising the rebels that she would honour the spirit of the amendment. She promised to produce a government amendment to put before the House of Lords, which happened last Thursday.
The rebels were appeased, took May at her word, and voted with the government. Within hours, they realised that May was not to be trusted. Following the intervention of David Davis, the wording on the amendment had been altered, without any consultation.”
Between the debate in the Lords on Monday and the Commons debate on Wednesday, May seemingly abandoned her hope of keeping the rebels on side. Instead, No. 10 was striving to encourage Labour Brexiters to vote with the government, against the Labour whip.
By all accounts, it looked as though the vote was going to be a close call. Then at the 11th hour, the government came up with a motion that some rebels, Grieve and Nicky Morgan included, felt able to support. The new motion had kicked the decision to allow parliament a role in the process much further down the road, and put it in the hands of the Speaker of the House.
The government won by a narrow margin of only 16 votes. It remains unclear as to whether this new motion does, in fact, give parliament any powers at all. Certainly, Anna Soubrey and Kenneth Clarke, who were firm in their opposition to the government’s motion, had grave concerns on that score.
Wilson adds, “A week ago, May specifically told the Tory rebels this was a ‘matter of trust’. After her duplicitous behaviour, we thought the rebels would never trust her again. Even if they believed May’s word could still be trusted, last week’s episode demonstrated that May is merely a passenger in her own government and David Davis holds the keys to the bus.”
Wilson concludes: “May has proved herself to be a terrible negotiator, with poor communication skills and an aggressive and arrogant approach. Where she does seem to shine, however, is in her ability to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute. She may be the worst Prime Minister in decades, but at least she’ll be able to fall back on her skills as a magician when she’s finally ousted from power. What must now be obvious to the public is that parliament cannot be trusted to put the country first. If ever we needed to ensure that the public get a final say on the deal that time is now. That’s why I will be marching on Westminster on Saturday 23 to demand a People’s Vote”.