Grieve scores victory against no-deal, but more are needed

by Luke Lythgoe | 10.07.2019

Dominic Grieve’s latest amendment scraping through a Commons vote may appear small. But it shows that parliamentary manoeuvres against a catastrophic no-deal Brexit are picking up steam, with a cross-party coalition of MPs coming together. But to be sure of success, Tory MPs will need to be much braver.

Grieve’s gambit passed by just one vote – 294 to 293. It was one of several amendments tabled to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which deals with efforts to reboot Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government. By passing Grieve’s proposal, MPs have now told the UK government to produce fortnightly reports of how those efforts are going.

It wasn’t the juiciest no-deal-busting amendment tabled. Grieve’s big hitter (see NC14) was an amendment compelling the Queen to call back MPs if Parliament was suspended (“prorogued” is the technical jargon) and there were new regulations or a report on the Northern Ireland situation. This wasn’t selected by the Speaker. 

Another amendment (see amendment 17), to secure debates on the fortnightly reports that MPs had required, lost by four. That would have been a weightier tool to prevent a new prime minister forcing through a no-deal Brexit by proroguing Parliament – something Boris Johnson again refused to take off the table in his debate with Jeremy Hunt last night.

But securing the reports has made prorogation a bit more difficult. Labour’s Brexit lead Keir Starmer is right to call it a “tight but important victory”. The last time Parliament tried something similar, a motion tabled by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was defeated by a margin of 11.

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How do we reach critical mass against no deal?

Wafer-thin differences between victory and defeat mean tiny shifts on the day can make a big difference. For example, two SNP MPs didn’t vote at all yesterday and a further three failed to go through the lobbies for the Grieve amendment requiring debates. The Brecon and Radnorshire by-election on August 1 – expected to return a Lib Dem – should also add one to the pro-European tally and subtract one from the pro-Brexit column.

But the real shift must come from the Conservative party. Here too there is some cause for optimism. It was reported that up to 30 Tories were ready to rebel at this attempt to make no-deal more difficult for their new leader. Clearly that didn’t happen. But several Tories are wavering. For example, Ed Vaizey and Paul Masterton signed up to Grieve’s amendments but didn’t vote on the night. Antoinette Sandbach and Jonathan Djangoly both failed to vote for the successful amendment, but then joined the rebels on subsequent votes.

Although Johnson says he’s committed to leaving the EU by October 31, he also insists the chances of no deal are “million-to-one against”. Those loyal MPs who don’t want to rebel against their party have been focused on the possibility that Johnson can put lipstick on Theresa May’s Brexit deal and get it through Parliament. The question is, when will all hope of that be abandoned?

Several of the names associated with these “30 Tories”, such as chancellor Philip Hammond and justice secretary David Gauke, are also in the Cabinet. It seems unlikely they’ll still be there if and Johnson becomes prime minister. They will soon be able to apply pressure from the backbenches.

A new opportunity to rebel could come soon. This Bill now has to make its way through the Lords, with that process ending next Wednesday. Peers may look at MPs’ amendments and decide the anti-no-deal parts should be strengthened. There’s speculation they might even bring back the full Grieve package. MPs would then have to vote again on these amendments, in the so-called “ping-pong” process. The Bill needs to be passed by the start of Parliament’s summer recess on July 25, otherwise the government won’t have the legal power to extend the deadline for Stormont power-sharing talks and will face the prospect of Northern Ireland elections.

Grieve’s success yesterday may seem small fry against the impending Johnson juggernaut. But it shows the opposition in Parliament is building. Now is the time for MPs to put the country first and stop our new prime minister careening over the cliff edge.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

One Response to “Grieve scores victory against no-deal, but more are needed”

  • Johnson evidently did himself a fair amount of damage, even among a good few Tory MPs, in his support for Trump’s falsehoods and vitriol against a British Ambassador and Prime Minister. So maybe more of them will be more willing than they have yet shown themselves to be to avert another dark moment for our democracy.