1 Feb 2017

Commons passes Brexit Trigger Bill

Three quotes from Labour MPs fresh(ish) from voting for Article 50 give you a flavour of the mood amongst them tonight:

“My husband’s told me: don’t f***ing bother coming home after what you’ve just done.”

“I need a bath to get rid of all the filthiness.”

“I’ve just voted for something I 100% don’t believe in for a reason I 100% believe in … it’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever done.”

I saw Labour MPs looking on the brink of tears. One Tory remainer looking as angry as anyone I’ve ever seen.

Tory Brexiteers were clapping themselves on the back. One looked like he was about to explode with happiness. “We’ve smashed the elites,” he said, with one of the poshest accents you’ll ever hear. Another said it was a moment equivalent to the “execution of Charles the First, the emancipation of women or the repeal of the Corn Laws. I’ve written down the exact time I passed through the lobby,” he said, beaming from ear to ear. “We just made history.”

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The issue that has wracked the Tory party for years tonight visited the pain it has long known on its Labour opponents.

Some Tory Remainers spent the day trying to rain on that parade. They all voted for Article 50 – with the exception of Ken Clarke – but hope they can combine with Labour, the SNP and others to defeat the government on amendments next week or intimidate the government into concessions ahead of a defeat. We shall see.

The amendments they’ve been talking about in cross-party contacts include one New Clause that demands a meaningful vote on the negotiations before the whole process is over and in time to send back the team with a different negotiating brief. It’s hard to see how it wouldn’t effectively be a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister. It also undermines Mrs May’s strategy of telling the EU that she and the UK believe no deal is better than a bad deal.

Sir Ivan Rogers, squeezed out of his top Brussels job, told MPs in an earlier select committee hearing that EU leaders think Mrs May is bluffing about that. He also warned that the EU 27 would dig in their heels over extracting a big Brexit bill from the UK because the loss of a net contributor had put a bomb under EU finances.

George Osborne told the Commons in the debate that on his travels around the EU  he’d detected no inclination amongst key players to sign up to the sort of hybrid deal that Theresa May outlined in her Lancaster House speech and which will reappear in a White Paper tomorrow. He also said Mrs May had prioritised immigration over economics.

There are some other amendments that Tory rebels are talking about coalescing around including ones on student travel and the EU-wide nuclear body. The most potent could turn out to be an amendment calling for the recognition of EU citizen residents’ right to stay here. Even if they managed to force concessions from the government on these you can see it wouldn’t change the weather. And one MP who has been at the centre of this grouping in recent months told me that the prospect of appearing on the front of a newspaper labelled “an enemy of the people” was a big disincentive to vote for an amendment on anything.
Something very big has started and the chances of it being stopped are about nil. The chances of it being substantially refined from the Theresa May plan in any way that Remain supporters would like looks pretty remote too.

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