13 Dec 2017

Government Brexit defeat: game-changer?

One Labour MP said Ken Clarke told him and his colleagues: “This proves there’s a majority for soft Brexit.” Opposition MPs are queuing up in agreement with that analysis. One said “the dam has burst,” another said “this is a complete game-changer.”

Tory MPs walking through the voting lobby with Labour MPs were treated to Labour frontbencher Steve Pound serenading then with the Red Flag. That’ll be a small humiliation compared to the opprobrium some of their colleagues will now shower on them.

Some veteran MPs said you mustn’t over interpret this moment. “Minority governments lose votes, they’ll lose more, but they’ll stay in power.”

Another pointed out that it wouldn’t really damage the PM’s standing in Brussels in the talks to come because Brussels knows all too well how slight is her grip on power.

But one Shadow Cabinet member said this defeat would mean Theresa May had to recalibrate what she negotiates in Brussels as the EU/U.K. future relationship. If she veers too much towards the Canada end of the trade relationship spectrum, pulling away from EU rules and regulations, Parliament, he argued, could refuse its signature on the deal.

One of the complications with that view is that you don’t always sense the EU27 are mad keen on the U.K. having a closer relationship that isn’t the straight template of Norway membership. The draft communique for the European Council which Theresa May will attend tomorrow had a sentence which (I paraphrase) stated that as Norway had been rejected we were clearly heading for Canada.

It has been removed at the request of the U.K. government to avoid incensing some people at home after a bruising couple of weeks. Is some hybrid actually on offer? EU sources are adamant it isn’t. Various U.K. officials and politicians are convinced it is.

One Labour MP said the pro-Brexit Tories had “smack bum faces.” Labour MPs were wreathed in smiles. Prominent Tory Brexiteers will now refocus on their goal: securing Brexit and the end of the transition before another election, locking in their great prize before someone steals it away. Tonight has added a layer of complication to that project.

On the night of the General Election I was one of many looking at the surprise Labour surge and the Tory disappointment and wondering of the voters who swung it: “what did they mean by that?” For many (not all) of them, I suspect, this is what they wanted.

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