LAST night Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement was rejected by a huge margin in a historic Commons defeat. MPs voted by 432 votes to 202 against the deal that set out the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU on 29 March.
Some 118 Conservative MPs – from both the Leave and Remain wings of her party – voted with the opposition parties. Though it represents the largest government defeat on the floor of the House of Commons in modern political history, Mrs May has not tendered her resignation. Jeremy Corbyn has finally tabled a motion of no confidence in her Government
Here The Conservative Woman’s key Brexit commentators give their reactions to last night’s vote; to its significance for both Brexit and the future of our system of representative parliamentary democracy.
Michael St George
The first thing which ought to happen – but almost certainly won’t, such is the lack of any semblance of honour, principle or probity now discernible in our shameless political class – is that Theresa May should resign as Prime Minister and ‘Conservative’ Party leader, irrespective of the outcome of today’s confidence vote.
This was her deal. The one she’d spent 2½ years on: the one she assiduously and stubbornly promoted as the only feasible one: the one she mendaciously insisted delivered on the Referendum result, despite a plethora of informed and persuasive commentary that it did no such thing: the one, any alternatives to which she asserted varied from damaging to catastrophic: the one she deceived even her own Brexit ministers, Cabinet and MPs to devise in secret. She owns it.
The numbers tell the story. In losing the Commons vote by a margin of 232 votes, she has suffered the largest Commons defeat of a Government in office for more than 100 years, and the second-largest rebellion by MPs against their own governing party since the repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840s. With the payroll vote at approximately 140, only 59 non-Government Tory MPs voted for May’s deal, compared with twice as many who voted against. Even if she survives today’s confidence vote her position is untenable.
So the House of Commons has rejected May’s appalling deal. Probably the first sensible thing that has happened in Westminster since they granted us a referendum on Europe. They did that because then, as now, and indeed since we joined, there is no consensus on what to do about the EU within the Houses of Parliament or, worse, within the major parties.
Which means that even if we have a General Election next month there will be no solution. Unless we, the electorate, demand from individual candidates that they state unequivocally whether they will support Brexit on WTO terms or they wish to remain in the EU. There are no other options in the time available.
Ever since Parliament interposed itself into the process, which was neither necessary nor logical, we have witnessed the failings of our Parliamentary system, political parties, elected representatives and system of government.
Paul T Horgan
Our current Parliament channels the ghost of Neville Chamberlain. Mrs May’s deal was created in the shadow of a threat of economic warfare from the EU. Rather than stand up to the EU and defy them in the name of honour and decency no matter the cost, the government has opted for a perverted economic ‘peace for our time’ that attracted the payroll vote and little more. It is clear that the EU have been negotiating in bad faith. Their desire has been to punish the people of this country for voting to leave their monument to the collective failure of continental politics in the first half of the 20th century. Where there could have been friendly disengagement, there has been instead sharp dealing, insults and bullying from Brussels. The peace in Northern Ireland has been needlessly put under threat. Our official response has been appeasement. The EU deliberately plotted our withdrawal to be a ‘win-lose’ scenario for them when it could have easily have been ‘win-win’ for everyone. It is to be hoped that the populist parties prevail in the forthcoming EU parliament elections to provide the insulated self-satisfied technocracy with a dose of human reality.
The actions of the Remainers in this country and in Parliament resemble little more than those of EU fifth-columnists. They are brazenly dishonest and have to be more interested in self-aggrandisement than honouring the vote in a country that preserved and enhanced its democracy and freedoms over decades while continental politicians trashed theirs over and over again, and needed our help to extract them from the mess they created. No national or international institutions are emerging from this with any credit. And this is the most concerning. Communism is a very weak political force. Given a free choice, populations will vote for any other form of politics other than communism, even if this is as extreme. Communism thrives when national institutions are weakened and discredited, such as now. The current state of affairs where our current political system has been discredited for in effect ignoring the outcome of a national referendum has only one beneficiary: Jeremy Corbyn. He thrives in the chaos.
I have to admit I had a deep-seated worry that more of the Conservative Party’s Brexiteers would bottle it. In face of the threat of a General Election (and Corbyn) or the even ‘softer’ Brexit that could come from Parliamentary ‘Remainers’ taking over the process following a defeat of Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement, my anxiety was that Mrs May would not suffer the crushing defeat that was predicted (accurately, it turns out).
But no one should be under any illusion that this is a victory for the Brexiteers. It was the right result but, in the case of the majority of MPs, it was for the wrong reason. Yes, MPs did vote by 432 votes to 202 to reject May’s deal but only 118 Conservative MPs – and then from both the Remain and Leave wings of the party – voted with the opposition parties. In voting down May’s deal, Parliament was united in one thing, but it was not in agreement. Least of all in agreement was the Conservative Party. And that Mrs May can continue to take full advantage of.
The truth is that Project Fear, not Brexit, won the vote – fear of not being part of the EU rather than the fear of remaining shackled to it. There’s the rub. The vote, despite its two fingers up to the impervious Mrs May, still reflected Parliamentarians’ fear of the UK going it alone. And believe me, Mrs May and Number Ten will have factored that in, well in advance. She was prepared.
She knows only too well that the vast majority of those responsible for her defeat – the Labour Party and the SNP – will use it either to press for a non-existent Brexit (or NonExit), by which I mean the UK staying in both the customs union and the single market, or for remaining in the EU in defiance of the referendum, i.e. a second referendum.
The number of Eurosceptic MPs who voted it down for the right reasons remain a minority in Parliamentary terms. This is the small band of brothers on whom the 17.4million people who voted to leave the EU now depend to see this through. It is a tall order. The clock is ticking towards March 29, but every effort will be made and every political stratagem deployed in the intervening 73 days to thwart the default WTO reversion which that date heralds in the absence of any agreement.
Theresa May, the Terminator, I fear is not going away. She shows no sign of following her only honourable course, which is to stand down to make way for a more resolute Brexiteer to try his or her hand with the EU. Instead she has promised (alarmingly) to put herself at Parliament’s disposal in coming to an agreement. That means only one thing – that she is open to an ever more watered down agreement, central to which would be a commitment to remain in the customs union. I am sure she will find a way of justifying that, whilst happily announcing the backstop problem which she ‘materialised’ in the first place would be solved.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson, David Davis and co have an uphill battle ahead of them, and just 73 days to co-ordinate and marshal their campaign to stop the referendum result from being foiled. It will take every ounce of their combined political skill and resolution to stay ahead of the game, rebut Project Fear at every turn and encourage the various (to date chaotic and uncoordinated) Leave groups to march in lockstep with them.