6 reasons why Tory party is still split on Brexit

by Nick Kent | 30.01.2019

Last night’s Tory truce is a false dawn for Theresa May. Her party remains bitterly divided and still doesn’t like her deal. The big decisions were not made last night. Instead Tory MPs opted to give the prime minister another delay.

After her unexpected “victory”, May will have felt the welcome warmth of the winter sun on her face this morning. But she will know that after about four o’clock, the sun goes in, the cold and the grey returns and all that is in front of you is a long dark night.  In truth, she won a fortnight’s delay yesterday but little else. Her party’s unity won’t last.

That unity was a product of a moment in time and a lot of tactical voting on several different amendments (see the table below).

red = against govt; green = with govt
* NVR = no vote recorded, possible abstention.

First, the previously divided forces of the European Research Group (ERG) rallied to the Brady amendment on the Northern Ireland backstop despite their doubts about it.  Many of them calculated that the EU will not give in to demands for a legally-binding change to the backstop and that a fortnight’s delay brings closer the no deal Brexit many of them want.

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Second, many Tory MPs were first confused and then excited by the news, late on Monday night, that a group of Leaver and pro-European Tory MPs had come up with a unifying Brexit plan. Although it wasn’t being voted on last night, the so-called Malthouse compromise encouraged some Tory MPs to believe that a united Tory position was possible – despite the fact that it is unworkable.

Third, while some of the People’s Vote supporters (Heidi Allen, Guto Bebb, Dominic Grieve, Phillip Lee, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston) voted against the Brady amendment, others abstained, including Justine Greening, Jo Johnson and Sam Gyimah.

Fourth, the “Norwegians”, who want to leave the EU but stay in its single market and customs union. backed the Brady amendment. But they were divided on the Cooper and Grieve amendments to give Parliament more control over Brexit.

Fifth, larger groups of Tory pro-Europeans voted for the Cooper and Grieve amendments (17 and 15 respectively) but their votes were balanced by Labour MPs voting against their party whip.

Sixth, a significant group of pro-Europeans, including potential People’s Vote supporters, are ministers and they agreed to let the prime minister try and renegotiate the notorious “backstop” in exchange for a commitment for a further vote by February 14.

Tory MP gave May yet another delay, which suits many of them because they face anger from their local supporters over the time it is taking to get Brexit sorted, pressure from the whips and bullying on social media.  

But the crunch will come in the end. And, as the various alternatives to a People’s Vote are gradually eliminated, it will become clear to more Tory MPs that putting the issue back to the people is the only way to manage the splits in the party and to break the parliamentary deadlock.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

5 Responses to “6 reasons why Tory party is still split on Brexit”

  • My life’s been relatively easy; no wars, no rationing, central heating and electric kettles. This is my world war. To have allowed this referendum in the first place was criminal; we live(d) in a parliamentary democracy not a plebiscite. It seems to me that the media owners and editors decided to leave Europe; why else would Leave campaigners go unchallenged in the absolute nonsense they say; and how they raised their funds and are still raising them. For me there are echoes of pre-war Germany; the extremely rich and upper middle classes saying ‘don’t worry, we can control this Nigel Farage and those extremely unpleasant far right scum but they’re useful for rabble rousing and leaving Europe’…well, we know the end of that story in Germany don’t we.

  • Jilly is correct, the bored and cossetted middle classes voted for a bit of excitement, and it still seems attractive to them. Like before the First World War also, when the jingoists were spoiling for a fight. Now we have people cheerfully parading outside parliament waving placards saying ‘No deal, no problem’ . Brexiters hanker perversely for destruction, it is truly a death cult.

  • Well, I don’t want to turn to racist language that other commenters have left on here.

    I speak to many people from all walks of life. And a lot of them didn’t vote
    Leave because of what was said in the daily mail, or what it said on buses that travelled around London.

    But some of voted mainly because they could see Europe becoming a United States of Europe, with all silly laws and regulation coming from people they didn’t even vote for. Some of them voted because they saw a wave of people walking into the UK taking their kids, and grandkids jobs, for cheaper money, and using our hospitals, schools, and taking benefits. Ok some of them are a bit racist, and wouldn’t vote for a German takeover as they see it.

    None of them know what a no deal will bring (neither does any body), and you could say that only a few of them would have a good guess. But they voted, and expect the government to do the best for them.

    My own views. Yes the EU has gotten a bit power crazy, and yes their is a lot of waste of money in the lavish buildings, and infrastructure and parliamentarians, supposably running the EU, (which may have been resolved if we had a proper elected government), but the common market was an excellent idea, the freedom of movement of people is also good, and some of the common laws and regulations are good. And there are some benefits from the single market.

    I voted remain because I feel like a no deal Brexit would seriously effect us, will cause recession, which would wipe out the benefits that we will have gained from austerity. The stock market may crash, killing my investments, pensions, etc.

  • It’s sad, I feel, that a number of Tory MPs voted with the Government out of a sense of duty rather than conviction! One Tory MP even stated that he felt ambiguous about Brexit but felt that he should be behind the PM! As this Brexit crisis looms ever nearer. I, as well as many others I’m sure, feel a sense of despair that the country is on a suicide mission. It ‘s high time the MPs put their country before their politics!

  • It might be slightly off topic today, but I cannot stand the infamous “unelected bureaucrats in Brussels” phrase anymore, used as a justification for EU criticism (there are many other things to be criticised).
    I do not know any administration in Europe, including the UK, where administrators are elected. Not even the ministers are, as the PMs everywhere just ‘hire and fire’ them as is opportune (sic!).
    Votes in a general election are for a party, and we only assume that the head of the winning party will be nominated for the top job. Everywhere, ‘voting’ ends here.
    When voting directly for the EU Parliament, you know who is the designated Commission President proposed from each campaigning party (Spitzen candidate). Same situation for the voter here, not more not less.
    Why still this frustration not to have “more say in the Brussels administration”? Maybe most people forget that the European legislation is not decided by the European Commission – their bureaucrats collect 28 national positions and destill the first draft. But it is the lengthy process (often criticised as too lengthy) between Council and Parliament where the drafts are sometimes completely changed in scope, direction and impact. The Commission (the EU ‘administration’) has no say anymore, as it is a political process between elected (EP) and delegated (Council of Ministers) national representatives.
    It would be nice to finally overcome this argument of the “legality deficit of the EU” which originates from the early seventies BEFORE there was a direct EP election. Well, does not matter anymore, Brexit happens…