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Thursday 21 June 2018

The government succeeded in defeating Dominic Grieve’s “meaningful vote” amendment, but is the matter settled? And in whose favour? 

You would think, in a situation where a pro-EU rebel caves into government pressure by agreeing not to vote for his own Brexit-blocking amendment would count as a victory for independence, but as is typical with this tortuous withdrawal process, that is not the obvious conclusion.

Yesterday, the villain of this blog in recent weeks, Dominic Grieve accepted the government’s word of a meaningful vote over the final Brexit deal. The proposal duly failed, 319 to 303 – unlike Grieve, Tory traitors Soubry, Clarke, Allen, Wollaston, Lee and Sandbach all vote in favour. Having lost the same key amendment twice, the House of Lords waved the EU Withdrawal Bill through, all that remains to be done is Royal Assent.

To be clear, the prime minister’s promise to Grieve amounts to another can kicking exercise, a May speciality. She rightfully refused to offer the Tory traitors a compromise in the form of a concrete vote that would render the prospect of a no-deal impossible and a great deal of bargaining power along with it. As David Davis, who was the most insistent the government not give in to Grieve, put it: “You can’t enter into a negotiation without a right to walk away.”

The vote must not be allowed to open the door for the House of Commons to force through a second referendum, extend the negotiating period, or heaven forbid, untrigger Article 50. Grieve’s amendment was contentious because it opened up a third way, a yes or no vote is useless to Remainers, they would rather vote for any deal with the EU over none at all, an outcome that would be very satisfying indeed.

Neutral motion

But the government cannot table such a motion. The Speaker of the House can however, or can he?

Under the deal struck with Grieve, the government will table a “neutral motion” and the pro-Remain speaker John Bercow will decide whether it can be tampered with.

The Times is in no doubt, Remainer MPs will be able to make amendments. For a start, Bercow has hinted he would allow it. The House of Commons library has advised the Remainer “rebels” that a majority of MPs can “agree to disapply standing orders” – i.e. they can insist on amendments.

The pro-EU FT is surprisingly less confident. It quotes an expert on Parliamentary procedure, who claims, “the rules are too tightly drawn and I can’t see how any amendment could be tabled.”

Technically the Commons could “disapply” the standing orders, “but this would require complex parliamentary footwork and I can’t see how this could be done either,” he added.

On the Today programme this morning, Jacob Rees-Mogg assured that any neutral motion attached to an act of Parliament is automatically relieved of legal force as soon as it is amended. Remainers will therefore only be able to exert political pressure. But do they have the nerve?

For all their energetic meddling, they are an insipid bunch. To further complicate Brexit, which is backed in the first place by a resounding referendum result, at the eleventh hour after an exhausting withdrawal process will carry grave consequences. They have suffered a string of defeats and will not be optimistic about disrupting the nation’s destiny at the final hurdle.

Most Labour MPs represent Leave constituencies they dare not enrage. Ever since the referendum, they have been diametrically opposed to their leader who despises the EU, yet there has been no major fallout. On the Tory side, the dozen or so Eurofanatics like Grieve may be extraordinarily influential, but they are not rebels of the Maastricht variety. They are mainstreamers, several of them are former ministers. Careerists do not have a natural inclination to take the fight to the enemy’s door for all eternity. Bill Cash they ain’t. Independence lives to fight another day, and for once the outlook is on the rosier side.