Voting against May this week won’t make Corbyn PM

by Hugo Dixon | 11.06.2018

Pro-European Tory MPs should ignore calls to rally round the prime minister in this week’s key votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill. Backing her shambolic Brexit will be bad for the UK. It will also be bad for their own party, as the voters won’t thank them for damaging the country.

Theresa May is expected to tell the backbench 1922 Committee later today: “We must be clear that we are united as a party in our determination to deliver on the decision made by the British people.”

Her cause was boosted at the weekend when Amber Rudd, the former Home Secretary who also backed Remain, warned that voting against the government could play into Labour’s hands.

This is a bad argument. There is nothing to stop Tory “rebels” voting against the prime minister’s policy and the very next moment backing her in a vote of confidence. Since the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, governments can no longer tie votes of confidence to specific policies.

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Prospective “mutineers” mustn’t fall for the bogeyman argument that they are helping Jeremy Corbyn become prime minister. The argument should actually be turned on its head. It is a shambolic, destructive Brexit that will roll out the red carpet for Corbyn to enter Downing Street.

It’s not as if backing the government would solve the knotty issues of customs and the Irish border either. The Cabinet is still split down the middle over what long-term plan it wants and the temporary “backstop” it finally agreed last week was immediately rejected by the EU.

So if the prime minister wins the votes on customs and the Irish border, the government will still be clueless about what to do. Meanwhile, time is ticking towards the crucial European Council summit two weeks away. It would be better for MPs to put May out of her misery by telling her what to do.

The most important amendment is probably over the meaningful vote, not customs. MPs will, after all, get the chance to consider customs when the trade and customs bills come to the House of Commons next month.

But without a meaningful vote at the end of the Brexit talks, the government could ram through a miserable deal or crash out of the EU with no deal at all. As I argued in InFacts yesterday, it is vital MPs take a stand on this.