Finance Bill Amendment Passes
In what could prove to be a watershed moment in Britain’s Brexit saga, twenty Tory MPs, amongst them 17 former ministers, voted against their party’s wishes to back a cross-party amendment to the finance bill which is intended to make it more difficult for the government to proceed with a “no deal” strategy should Mrs May’s agreement on withdrawal from the EU be rejected by parliament later this month.
With the support of the DUP, the government has a theoretical majority of 13 votes, but the DUP have recently repeated that they cannot agree to support May’s withdrawal bill. There are supposedly up to 80 ERG Tory MPs who have stated their intention to vote the bill down and a further 20 (ish) remain-minded Tories who are also likely to vote with the opposition when the bill comes before the House next week. In short, it looks like the bill is certain to be rejected.
Whilst Mrs May could seek to amend the bill in the hope of making it more palatable to MPs, the EU has made it clear that the text of the document is closed and there will be no further negotiation on it (a position that Jeremy Corbyn seems to refuse to believe!), but clarifications and, presumably, statements of intent will be offered. It is next to certain that this will not be enough to convince the DUP.
May’s strategy, therefore, would seem to be to drive the ship of state as close to the rocks of “no deal Brexit” as possible in the hope that enough MPs will chicken out and back her deal rather than risk the alternative. Last night’s amendment victory shows that some Tory MPs are willing to join ranks with the opposition to prevent the risk of “no deal” by accident via changes to primary legislation. In the wake of the vote, there have been calls for the PM to now rule out a “no deal” Brexit, but so far these have gone unheeded.
The official position of the Labour party remains that it will vote down the withdrawal bill and then press a vote of no confidence in the government which, if successful, could trigger a general election. The chances of that happening seem as slim as the withdrawal bill passing! The fall-back position of Labour, endorsed at its autumn general conference, is that it will then lobby for a “People’s Vote”, but Corbyn has angered many by making it clear that he does not endorse this personally.