4 Jun 2018

Government at ‘serious risk of three to four defeats’ in upcoming Brexit votes, Tory MP says

“The next 10 days are going to be tempestuous,” one Conservative MP said.

He was talking about the attempt to overturn all the Lords’ amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill on Tuesday next week.

One of those defeats might not necessarily be on the substance of Brexit, but on the time allowed for debate (the first vote of the day, the programme motion). Amendments on devolution, for instance, could end up very short of debating time if they’re at the end of the day’s business.

“Parliament’s been sitting around doing nothing for months,” one MP complained. “Now we have to work through the night.”

As Chris Grayling has been hearing in the Commons chamber this afternoon, trains home can be scarce enough these days without ending the working day after 2am.

Tory Brexiteers have been pushing for the votes to happen before the PM goes to Brussels for the June European Council.

One pro-Brexit former Cabinet minister told me that the Prime Minister, with a succession of victories behind her, would be able to demand trade talks now or else. The former Cabinet minister said Mrs May must “throw a grenade into the European Commission bunker … ker-pow … let’s see what happens when it goes off.”

Some Tory pro-Remain MPs think the PM will not escape without defeat next week. Some of them had to spend part of Parliament’s May recess nursing their constituency associations and trying to shore up their own support base ahead of those votes.

Amongst the most interesting votes to watch are the vote on the Lords’ amendment which makes the meaningful vote coming at the end of the negotiation even more meaningful. That could end up the most significant defeat the government sustains.

Brexiteers want the Lords’ amendment on the Customs Union turfed out but it is worded in a fairly innocuous way. The government would not feel compelled to shift policy on the back of a defeat on this but some potential Tory rebels who support the UK staying in the Customs Union might save their powder for later battles on other bills.

The government will successfully knock out the Lords’ amendment supporting EEA membership but it will be closely monitored to see how many Labour rebels support it as well as how many Tories. Many Tories think Labour’s front bench might find a way to support a similar amendment later in the process and will study every name voting for the EEA approach.

The battle with the pro-Remain Tory MPs comes just as No. 10 seems to be fumbling its way towards a position that is closer to the backbench rebels’ position than they might ever have thought possible. If the government backs a plan to stay in the Customs Union much longer than originally planned and alongside that promises to stay aligned to the EU for all manufactured goods, some pro-Remain MP rebels say that would delight them. But the government has not yet publicly committed to such a plan.

So next week we get the government taking on pro-Remain MPs, the battle that the pro–Brexit MPs demanded. Further down the line, those pro-Remain MPs wonder if they’re about to see a government policy closer to their own wishes. Much could then depend on whether the EU27 reject the government hybrid outright. Plenty of EU sources have said that’s exactly what they will do.

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