At last! They took their time about it but 20 Conservative MPs have finally shown that they have spines and rebelled against Theresa May’s threat to inflict a no-deal Brexit on the UK.
They supported Yvette Cooper’s amendment to the Finance Bill (that’s the Budget, isn’t it?) that means the government will have to seek approval from Parliament for tax changes in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
You can find their names here – and they include some high-ranking grandees, although Oliver Letwin and Kenneth Clarke are likely to have supported the Labour amendment for sharply contrasting reasons.
It might not seem like much, but it effectively means Theresa May would be unable to use any money to mitigate effects of such a departure from the EU that would harm her own interests, because Parliament would not allow it.
It is also hugely historic as the first time a government has lost a Finance Bill vote in 41 years. These are treated as “motions of confidence”, meaning that Parliament does not have confidence in the government’s ability to run the UK’s affairs properly, based on the conditions described in the legislation.
The amendment means that if the government wanted to use specific powers in the finance bill to implement “no deal”, it would have to give Parliament a vote first or apply to extend article 50. The amendment doesn’t affect the normal operations of the Treasury and government, but it does make it harder for the government to drift into no deal without parliament being able to direct it.
Significance of this is that the budget not able to pass if we get a no deal Brexit. This and the 219 MPs who have signed a letter to Theresa May insisting she rule out no deal (and the meeting today off the back of that) indicate that Parliament slowly taking back control https://t.co/nujaUiAIQn
— Rupa Huq MP (@RupaHuq) January 8, 2019
That’s why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn turned around and applauded Ms Cooper when the result of the vote was read out.
Jeremy Corbyn turns round and applauds Yvette Cooper in the chamber, and gives her a big thumbs up after her amendment on stopping a no deal Brexit is passed on the Government’s Finance Bill by 303 votes to 297
— Alain Tolhurst (@Alain_Tolhurst) January 8, 2019
It also shows that Mrs May’s government has its back against the wall. With 20 Conservatives so committed to foiling a no-deal Brexit that they would back a Labour amendment, she must ensure that her deal is passed by the Commons when it comes to the “meaningful vote” on Tuesday (January 15).
As matters stand at the moment, it won’t.
We have seen from the vote on Ms Cooper’s amendment that the government’s Parliamentary majority is tiny, and depends on all Conservative MPs voting for its legislation, along with the 10 members of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The rebellion over the amendment shows there is not enough support for a “no deal” Brexit. But the DUP will not support her deal without legally binding assurances over the so-called Northern Irish border “backstop” – and the EU has already made it perfectly clear that those assurances aren’t coming.
Mrs May has no options left, it seems.
Of course she could let the clock run down without finding any solution to these issues. But that would be extremely irresponsible and would cement her place in history as the worst failure as prime minister the UK has ever had. She needs to find answers, or accept the fact that she will go down into posterity as a figure of ridicule.
And Opposition MPs are also said to be planning similar amendments to other crucial government legislation, such as the Trade Bill, and legislation on Fisheries and on Healthcare, to ensure that the only way for the government to take the UK out of the EU without a deal would be with the expressed consent of a majority of MPs. This is considered that start of a “guerrilla” campaign against “no deal” Brexit.
Theresa May is now at tipping-point. All her decisions, her cowardice and ineptitude, have led her to this.
She can’t do any more deals because nobody in Europe is interested and she has double-crossed all her possible allies in the UK, simply to get this far.
She can’t offer any more bribes because she has already given away peerages and other honours like sweets, to no avail.
So, what will she do?
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