12 Jun 2018

May avoids defeat, rebels get climbdown

The Tory rebels were getting excited and nervous as the day went on. In their internal discussions it was clear many were deeply unnerved by the Lords amendment giving the Commons powers to reject a government deal. They created a sense of mounting numbers. One said: “We were close to 20 by the time we saw Theresa.”

How many of those MPs were actually ready to vote for the Lords amendment rather than just abstain? Ask the senior figures in the group and you get a wry smile.

But the bluff worked and the government folded. It desperately wanted to avoid a defeat. Mrs May has conceded that MPs will be able to vote on specific policies it wants the government to adopt if it doesn’t like the look of Brexit. It’s not agreed to all of the Grieve amendment and over the next few days we will see exactly what deal emerges.

The Chief Whip prowled around the chamber relentlessly throughout the afternoon. The surprise intervention in support of Dominic Grieve by former Education Secretary Justine Greening caught the whips’ attention. Would she actually have voted against the government? Like others, Ms Greening was probably signalling she was ready to back the Grieve amendment if it came back from the Lords next week having been inserted by them. Better to get the pain over with earlier and concede some of that amendment now.

Brexiteers wanted this showdown because they wanted their pro-Remain opponents crushed. It’s questionable whether that has happened. What exactly emerges from the talks with the government that start tomorrow can’t be certain. But concessions have been promised. The Prime Minister has given personal assurances. And if the rebel MPs don’t get something close to what they want they will get their friends in the Lords to insert the Grieve amendment as drafted and you can bet there will be quite a few of them ready not just to abstain but to vote against the government to get that through.

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