Earlier this evening, the Government’s Brexit deal was rejected (again). There’s some more important votes in the Commons in the next few days that will shape how Brexit will play out over the coming weeks.
The Government’s Brexit deal was defeated by 391 votes to 242. 40 MPs (39 Conservative and 1 Labour), who voted against the deal in January, switched and voted for the deal this evening.
Tomorrow, Parliament will vote on whether to keep no-deal on the table, and depending on that result, on Thursday will vote on whether to ask the EU to extend Article 50.
The Parliamentary machinery has unfortunately meddled enough to scupper the idea that the Government could take things right to the wire (e.g. the day before we leave) to clinch a deal, but for Parliament to say that it rejects no-deal, would mean the one bargaining chip left would no longer be in play.
But there are no hidden agendas in Parliament when it comes to Brexit, every MP has openly declared which faction they’re in (deal, no deal, no Brexit), so the prospect of weakening the Government further is an exciting prospect for many opposition MPs (as it always is).
But, despite Parliament looking like it’s split three ways, there is a Parliamentary majority for an amended Withdrawal Agreement that gives either party (the UK or the EU) the ability to unilaterally withdraw from it. That would win over the Brexit rebels, DUP and some Labour moderates. It would be a wafer-thin majority, but a majority nevertheless.
But without that, the three factions of Parliament will continue to tie themselves in knots with motions, amendments, defections and who knows what else.
The Government doesn’t have a majority, it can’t get its flagship policy through, and an awful lot of Parliamentarians are able to have their say and make an impact on proceedings, all the while with the whole world watching. It’s messy, it’s frustrating, it’s democracy.
We are scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March. Unless there can be a third vote in Parliament on an amended Withdrawal Agreement, this time with the Withdrawal Agreement actually amended, then we’ll probably have to ask the EU for an extension of Article 50.
But if the EU isn’t bluffing, and this Withdrawal Agreement really is as good as it gets, then there are only really two options: no deal or no Brexit. And either of those would need a Government that can command a Parliamentary majority, and that genuinely believes in one of those two things.