Why are people in the media making such a major deal of a minor rebellion in the Parliamentary Labour Party, during discussion of a small Bill with big consequences?
In the future, very few people will remember that 47 Labour MPs voted against the Article 50 Bill at its second reading because it means absolutely nothing.
The Bill will progress to committee stage because it was always going to. Nothing could have stopped it.
By voting against it, the 47 Labour MPs were voting against the wishes of the people of the United Kingdom, as expressed in the referendum last year, who want the UK to leave the European Union.
Whining that their constituents didn’t vote for it means nothing, because it was not a constituency vote. In any case, 70 per cent of Labour-held constituencies voted for Brexit.
Whining that their consciences couldn’t tolerate it means nothing, because they were elected to Parliament to act for the good of the country.
And splitting the Parliamentary Labour Party is not good for the country at the moment.
Yes, Brexit is a bad idea. This Writer voted to Remain. But we live in a democracy, the people have decided, and the Labour MPs who voted against the Bill have exposed themselves to claims that they do not respect the decision or democracy itself.
And the major vote hasn’t even happened yet.
Bear in mind that the Article 50 Bill has not passed into law, despite what some news media headlines might say (“A fifth of Labour MPs defy Corbyn as Article 50 Bill passes”, Guardian?) – there are days of committee-stage and third-reading debate still to take place.
And this is where the nuts and bolts of Brexit are going to be thrashed out. There are 85 pages worth of amendments which may be rejected without discussion, debated, approved or rejected, and it is from these that we will learn the shape of the Conservative government’s plan.
While Tory backbenchers may be happy to be fobbed off with verbal promises of safeguards, to be thrashed out in the future, if the amendments demanding these safeguards are rejected we will know that the government has no intention of providing them. Otherwise it would not object to the amendments.
So every rejected amendment, by showing what Theresa May doesn’t want, also shows what she does.
That’s why This Site hasn’t bothered publishing any of the debate so far. It doesn’t matter whether sneering George Osborne actually made a good speech for the first time in his life, or whether Ken Clarke proved he is still capable of making sense in his dotage.
Nothing that was said on January 31 and February 1 will make much difference in the historic sense because the Bill was being discussed only in general terms. For the Opposition parties, only the details really matter.
So let’s all try not to get too wound up about the vote that has just taken place. It simply means Parliament may now debate exactly what Brexit will be.
And remember: If, by some miracle, the Bill had failed at this stage, that would not mean Brexit is not going to happen. It would simply mean Brexit would have happened in a different way.
In all the insignificant sound and fury we’ve had in the hours since the vote, it seems many people have forgotten that fact.
A fifth of Labour MPs defied Jeremy Corbyn’s three-line whip to vote against legislation granting Theresa May the power to trigger the UK’s exit from the European Union.
After a second day of impassioned debate in the House of Commons, a total of 498 MPs voted to give a second reading to the short bill granting the government the power to invoke article 50, while 114 voted against.
A total of 47 Labour MPs voted against the Brexit bill, joining 50 SNP MPs and seven Liberal Democrats. Just one Conservative MP, Ken Clarke, joined them in the division lobbies, to applause from Labour rebels.
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