Today, the EU (Withdrawal) Bill saw several key amendments voted on in the House of Commons. These originated from the House of Lords. There has been much doubt over the government’s ability to win votes, given their slim majority and threats of rebellion. Key Lords amendments were seen off, though. Brexit has survived for now. But at what cost?
Crucially, it seems that two different pictures of events are emerging from Westminster. Tory rebels say they have been promised much more than No 10 is admitting. The issue is that now the amendments have been defeated, the rebels can rely only on Theresa May to keep what they perceive to be her promises.
May’s commitments to pro-remain MPs relate to the amendment which would have been tabled today by Dominic Grieve. The amendment would have resulted in Parliament taking over Brexit negotiations if there was no deal by a specified date. Given Parliament is pro-EEA and the EU’s preferred outcome after Brexit is that the UK remains within the EEA, this would’ve given the EU an incentive to simply not give the UK a deal at all until Parliament took over.
To persuade Grieve not to table his amendment, it appears No 10 has promised to table another Lords amendment. Where descriptions of events differ is on the specifics of this amendment. Specifically, whether it includes the capacity for parliament to have a ‘meaningful vote’ on the Brexit deal. The rebels say this has been promised, No 10 says it has only promised to consider it.
The promises rebels claim to have been given would be unacceptable to Brexiteers in the Conservative party. If it appears they will be kept, Brexiteers will likely launch a coup and oust May. Yet if the promises are not kept, then what? You guessed it, the remainers will likely launch a coup and oust May. The PM has kicked the can down the road for months, and it seems it cannot be kicked much further.
Perception is key, and if either side feels they have been betrayed they will act. Brexit Secretary David Davis has already made it clear he will walk if he does not get what he wants. Other pro-Brexit ministers such as Boris Johnson and Liam Fox could follow. On the other side, we have already seen a resignation of a pro-remain minister earlier today.
Truthfully, it is becoming more and more difficult to see how Theresa May can continue much longer. Under siege from both sides, the possible fudges are running out. Add to this that summer recess is coming up and Conservative Party Conference is just over three months away and it becomes evident that now is as good an opportunity as there will be to replace the Prime Minister.
If May goes, it is far from clear who would replace her. What is important for Brexit negotiations is that her replacement would retain no deal as an option. The EU has correctly called May’s bluff over the scenario thus far. She has never really had any intention of exercising that option. Yet it is the UK’s best leverage in talks.
Despite everything what anyone must admit is that Theresa May has been resilient in her position. Perhaps she will find a way to hang on. But I wouldn’t bet on it. She does not truly have the confidence of Brexiteers or rebels in the House of Commons. All that is keeping her afloat is her usefulness as a stopgap in a time when nobody really wants the job.