May caves on meaningful vote – two cheers!

by Hugo Dixon | 12.06.2018

This is a great day for parliamentary democracy. MPs will get a “meaningful vote” at the end of the Brexit process – even though the details of it still have to be nailed down. The chance of the people getting their own vote has gone up. So has the chance of stopping Brexit completely.

The government’s retreat over the meaningful vote will put spring in the step of pro-Europeans both inside and outside parliament. MPs who stood up to bullies are national heroes.

This is a boost for morale – and morale is an asset in any political campaign. Pro-Europeans are still the underdogs. But the battle is moving in our favour. Our efforts are making a difference.

The government had wanted to neuter a version of the meaningful vote passed by the House of Lords. But by early afternoon, it knew MPs were going to back peers.

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Phillip Lee, a justice minister, had resigned. Four more pro-European junior ministers were prepared to quit, according to the Telegraph. Justine Greening, the former Cabinet minister, suggested she would vote against the government.

Rather than face defeat, the government caved. It agreed to accept a proposal by Dominic Grieve, who has led the charge for the meaningful vote, as the basis for a “structural discussion” on a new version when the legislation returns to the House of Lords next week. (See page 5).

The prime minister gave a personal assurance to 15-20 rebels in her Commons office 10 minutes before voting started to accept the thrust of Grieve’s amendment, according to Sky News’ Faisal Islam.

Theresa May originally said MPs would have a take-it-or-leave-it vote when she finished her Brexit negotiations. If they didn’t like her deal, we would crash out with no deal at all. And if she didn’t manage to do a deal in the first place, we’d also crash out. This was an insult to democracy.

The government did make a compromise proposal after peers produced their own version. But it was far too weak.

Brave Tory MPs have now forced the prime minister to back away from her position. They ran the gauntlet of the whips. Even more courageously, they faced down the bully-boys in the Brexit press. The Sun this morning had a vast front-page editorial entitled “Great Britain or Great Betrayal”, while the Express warned: “Ignore the will of the people at your peril”.

Because we don’t yet know exactly how the meaningful vote will work – and there is still a risk the the government will backtrack under pressure from hardline Brexiters – pro-Europeans shouldn’t let their guard down. More work will be needed in the coming days before the prime minister’s concessions can be banked.

That said, this looks like an important government retreat.

The risk of crashing out of the EU with no deal – something the government itself says could amount to “Armageddon” – is now reduced.

Meanwhile, the chance of getting a people’s vote on the Brexit deal has gone up. If the prime minister negotiates a bad deal – as, sure as eggs are eggs, she will – MPs won’t just have to take it or leave it. They will be able to ask the public whether they still want Brexit. And if the people don’t like the deal, that will be the end of the whole goddamn nightmare.

The piece was updated shortly after publication to add paragraphs about prime minister’s personal assurance to 15-20 rebel MPs and the compromise proposal the government had previously made, as well as a phrase about how there was still a risk of the government backtracking.

Further update June 13: the piece was modified to inject further notes of caution. In particular, “hip, hip, hooray!” in the headline was changed to “two cheers”. Further passages were added about how pro-Europeans shouldn’t let their guard down and how more work would be needed before the prime minister’s concessions could be banked.

12 Responses to “May caves on meaningful vote – two cheers!”

  • I would not celebrate just yet, this government’s. “Assurances” are not worth a damned thing. Until I see this in law, approved by Parliament I won’t believe it will happen. Remember the assurance to Parliament that we didn’t “need” to include anything saying the Referendum was “advisory”? Or the “assurance” there didn’t need to be a qualifying threshold? And several more “assurances” that have all been reneged upon.

    In short, I will believe there really is a “meaningful vote” in Parliament of the Brexit terms when I see it actually happening.

  • It is great news, indeed. But a referendum on ‘the deal’ could be a close run thing, because:

    a) The Govt and Opposition and the Brexit press have all pushed the line that opposing the 2016 result is an “anti-democratic” elitist betrayal of the biggest vote in British history, etc. This has persuaded a lot of people. Most MPs either accept it or don’t dare admit otherwise. There is genuine public confusion about what “democracy” means.

    b) As Rafael Behr argued a while back (or was it Janan Ganesh?), people want to be shot of the whole boring, divisive business, and may be persuaded that a ‘soft Brexit’ is the path of least resistance, as well as being the only way to end the civil war.

    c) It is now widely believed that “the EU have been beastly to us”. “Who would want to belong to a club which behaves so badly”? etc. “We should stand up to bullies” “We would be a laughing stock”, etc.

    d) ‘The deal’ will still permit people to entertain many fantasy outcomes, because it will be essentially a standstill. As a third country, the UK will have an even weaker hand, and the eventual Association Agreement (or whatever) will leave us far weaker than as a member of the EU – but the Govt will still be able to pretend that “the backstop ends by Dec 2021” “We have a glorious future as a proud independent country” etc etc.

    The truth is that the EU have played it all very straight. ANY Brexit will tie us up in negotiations for a generation, as we decline in prosperity and influence and lose control. People (in a weakened country, less able to tackle its many social problems) will become increasingly angry and embittered…..But that is STILL not widely understood, because the tide of obfuscation and misinformation has been so relentless.

    So it will be REALLY important to run an effective hearts and minds campaign which is not just “not on THESE terms” or “not the Tory Brexit (but some other Corbyn fantasy version)”. The key is to convey that BRITAIN IS BETTER THAN BREXIT. People who believe in their country should want us to play our proper role as an influential European power.

    It is clear that a ‘soft Brexit’ is the only one which is not truly suicidal – but NO-ONE thinks it is a good idea. Leavers and Remainers should be able to agree (as BoJo, Hannan, etc are on record as saying) that full EU membership would be preferable.

  • What is more meaningful than a Majority Vote of the Electorate and that we have already had Out means Out not paddling round the shallow end because the water looks deep.

  • I can’t help thinking the Tory MPs unhappy with the Government’s Hard Brexit course are just kicking the can down the road again. Why couldn’t they just vote in favour of the Lord’s crucial amendment on giving Parliament a meaningful final say? Then the Government would have got the message loud and clear. This is the majority view of Parliament. The Government’s last desparate offer to discuss with the Rebels sounds anything but convincing. If they had been sincere they wouldn’t have left it to the last few minutes before a vote. Even now, the Brexit Dept has put out a statement that they will not accept Parliament’s final say. I hope the Tories who are opposed to the Government’s planned Hard Brexit, don’t get fobbed off at the last second tomorrow on the Single Market and Customs Union votes, which are absolutely critical.
    And I hope the Labour party shows a bit of backbone and provide some proper opposition to the Government’s Hard Brexit.
    If you keep kicking the can down the road, there comes a time when you run out of options and we are fast approaching that time.

  • I can see the Government using this tactic of waiting to the last possible minute before trying to head off amendments again and again. What’s the betting they won’t deploy the tactic again in the final minutes before the 29th March 2019 deadline?
    The Government have shown they are utterly single-minded in steamrolling through their version of a Hard Brexit, for which there is no majority in Parliament. Those MPs unhappy with this strategy need to show more courage and put the country’s interests first, rather than worrying about hurting the feelings of their party leadership.

  • The latter comments have it and yesterday’s impression was after the government has been leading the Tory rebels on a merry dance ( and possibly both sides).

    The government will try to bribe, lie and cheat their way through brexit.

    The outgoing chief of the CBI said that without the Customs Union, some areas of Industry (including cars) face extinction, that 100’s of millions are being wasted on preparing for hard brexit with no other benefits and that ideology is taking precedence over economics.

  • As someone tweeted, that is like saying:

    “2 years of negotiation have demonstrated that cutting off my leg will not help me to run faster after all, but I said I would do it, so (gritted teeth): amputation means amputation.”

    A very slight majority of a gerrymandered electorate in a consultative referendum 2 years ago should NOT doom the country regardless of what they can now see that “leaving the EU” means in practice. Do the electorate want it? Let us find out.

  • It’s worse than amputation Anthony, more like suicide. As I wrote previously, if May was a doctor and Britain the patient who had taken an overdose, the conversation would go like this:

    “I was in two minds about it doc, even at the time. Half of me wanted to live”.
    “Nonsense Mr Briton, you decided overwhelming to die, and your decision must be respected”
    “Can’t I change my mind? There is still time, if you give me the antidote”.
    “It was your will to die and I will deliver on that. There will be no attempt to remain in the land of the living through the back door”.
    “Seems a bit harsh, doc.”
    “Not at all. Now buck up and don’t be a moaner. You may suffer death in the short term, but there will be plenty of sunlit uplands ahead, when you go to heaven”.