Last night in the House, something novel took place. MPs were given ballot papers containing eight motions. They were to vote Aye or Nay to each of them; they could vote for or against as many as they wished. The results were then read out in the normal way.
None of the motions managed a majority. This presents us with an interesting dilemma. May’s deal has been voted down, twice; last night, no deal was trounced (240 majority against), as was revocation of Article 50; Any form of EEA/EFTA lost, worse than expected; a second referendum and remaining in a customs union came closest to passing, by 27 and 9 votes respectively. Literally everything that we as a country could do in relation to our relationship with the EU has now been voted down in the House of Commons, leaving nothing to do – and yet even the ability to do nothing has been voted down.
Brexiteers were rattled and it’s easy to see why. Mark Francois noted that a second referendum had been “trounced”, without bothering to note that the majority against another EU referendum was almost 10 times smaller than the one against no deal. This is because I think we are getting closer to the only possible route forward being a confirmatory vote on May’s deal.
If you tried to make sense of last night’s votes, the vague picture is this: MPs aren’t sure of what to do and are still spooked by being seen to be going against the 2016 referendum vote. As much as they can be lured out of their caves to express an opinion, they would slightly prefer a referendum over any of the other options available; slightly more than a soft Brexit, and much more than any harder form of Brexit.
The DUP said last night they would vote against May’s deal if it comes before the House again. Bercow is standing firm on his idea that the deal needs to change in a substantial way. This means that as it is, the deal won’t get voted on and even if it did, would not pass. May has to do something if she wants to avoid possibly being forced to revoke Article 50 on April 10th.
It seems to me she has two choices. Either agree to being in a permanent customs union post-Brexit, which may work to getting her deal passed, although I have my doubts. This would probably require Labour to whip the votes in favour, which I can’t see them doing. The other is attaching a confirmatory referendum to the deal. This has a better chance of passing because it does not require Jeremy Corbyn to support it.
I’ve said this before, but I’ll repeat for new readers: May can get at least 200 on her side for her deal, even if it had a referendum attached. I think she could get more, but let’s stick to minimums here, just for safety. Between the Lib Dems, TIG, the SNP and smaller leftist parties she has an addition 60 at least to add to that pile. This means she only needs 60 Labour votes to pass the thing. I struggle to see how she wouldn’t get those votes given the circumstances. 71 Labour MPs signed a letter calling for a People’s Vote, and while a few of them I could be in danger of double counting since they have since left Labour for TIG, you’re still looking at your magical 60 number. These MPs aren’t exactly scared to rebel against the whip either, certainly not for something this monumental.
The question is whether May can make this relatively minor pivot. History suggests, no, she cannot. If she can’t, she will be left with either pushing ahead with no deal or revoking Article 50 come April 10th, unless the EU Council again takes pity on her again, which is unlikely.