Monday’s “indicative” votes on how Parliament wants the UK to exit the European Union went exactly as we all should have expected, with no option winning the support of a majority. Well, good golly, Mrs May.
But the exercise hasn’t been entirely pointless. Analysis of the way the different parties voted on the two options that came closest to a majority provides clear evidence that there is one thing holding back progress on Brexit: The Conservative Party.
The amendment for a customs union attracted 273 votes, with 276 against. That’s right – it lost by just three votes.
And the amendment for “Common Market 2.0” won 261 votes, with 282 against.
On the “customs union” amendment, Conservatives had a free vote (apart from cabinet ministers who were whipped to abstain) – and only 37 supported it while a massive 236 were opposed.
Sure, some Labour MPs voted against it, and they could have given it a majority. So, for that matter, could the DUP – whose 10 MPs all voted against something that would have made the Northern Ireland border “backstop” they hate so much irrelevant.
But 236 Conservatives against it? Really?
Kenneth Clarke, the former Tory chancellor who proposed the motion, was overly kind, in This Writer’s opinion. He said his customs union did not get a majority because some people’s vote supporters would not back it because they only wanted to back a second referendum. And some MPs would not back it because they wanted common market 2.0, even though they would have been happy with the customs union plan too.
He said he sometimes thinks the House of Commons is not very good at doing politics. How charitable.
Nick Boles, the Conservative MP behind the “Common Market 2.0” amendment, was more realistic about the reasons for its failure.
With 228 Tories voting against it, he said his party had refused to compromise – so he resigned the Conservative whip on the spot.
“I have given everything to an attempt to find a compromise that can take this country out of the European Union while maintaining our economic strength and our political cohesion,” he told the Commons.
“I accept I have failed. I have failed chiefly because my party refuses to compromise. I regret therefore to announce I can no longer sit for this party.”
And then he walked out of the chamber.
It seems the UK’s departure from the EU is facing a long delay.
Next step (at the time of writing) is the regular Tuesday morning cabinet meeting which, considering developments since last week’s cantankerous affair, is likely to be acrimonious.
The Commons won’t support Theresa May’s deal, and can’t find a solution of its own. MPs won’t accept “no deal” and they won’t cancel Brexit unilaterally.
No options are acceptable, it seems.
That won’t stop Mrs May putting forward her deal for a democracy-shattering fourth meaningless vote, probably on Wednesday.
In anticipation of this, Jeremy Corbyn has already said that if she can put her deal to the Commons three times, the other options should have the same opportunity.
And so, it seems, the long year will wear on.
There is a solution. Mrs May could admit defeat, accept that Parliamentary arithmetic means none of the options put forward by MPs will win a majority, and call a general election.
That, it seems, is the only answer. But we already know she doesn’t have the strength of character it requires.
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