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Friday 19 July 2019

The government yesterday lost yet another attempt to block Brexit, and the margin was a lot greater than the single vote gifted by a whip taking an ill-timed loo break last week, but an alarming 41. The usual anti-Brexit fanatics sided with the opposition (see tweet below). Four cabinet ministers, including the chancellor, actively abstained. Jeremy Hunt and Karen Bradley, who as Northern Ireland Secretary is responsible for ushering the bill being amended through, also failed to vote. What on earth is going on?

Abstentions are no more acceptable than votes against the government, yet somehow Philip Hammond, Rory Stewart, David Gauke and Greg Clark all remain in their jobs. Hammond’s behaviour is particularly scandalous. In the run up to the vote, he sent out a flurry of text messages to MPs yesterday encouraging them to abstain.

“A lot of people who got the text were disgusted by it,” a former minister told the Telegraph. “It is brazen, the number of people he contacted,” added source currently in government.

So why haven’t Hammond and his three co-conspirators in cabinet not been fired? Today’s papers are rife with rumours of mass resignations as soon as Theresa May steps down. The Sun expects 12 ministers handing their notice. It is totally unacceptable that they’re being permitted a dignified exit.

Hammond and Gauke are also known to be preparing to lead a Remainer insurgency from the backbenches once they’re consigned there by the new prime minister.

The vote in question was an amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill requiring parliament to meet on particular days, which would in theory rule out prorogation. In reality, it does not block No Deal Brexit, it is only rendered marginally more difficult to force it through. Speaking on Newsnight last night Dominic Grieve admitted he cannot takeover Parliament and introduce a bill to revoke Article 50. However, fuelled by his side’s victory in the Commons, Grieve insisted Boris Johnson will not be prime minister by October 31st, MPs will not allow it. He is supremely confident that dozens of Tories will join him in plotting to a vote of no confidence against the government as soon as Boris steps into Downing Street.

Also speaking to Newsnight was Margot James, who resigned from her digital portfolio earlier in the day in order to join the band of 17 Conservative MPs voting against the government. She too warned of a mini exodus that would be crippling for a minority government.

There’s also a talk of a humble address, a Commons motion enforced by the Crown to take No Deal off the table and a favoured tactic of Sir Keir Starmer – he used it to wrestle away the government’s secret impact assessments. Sounds alarming enough, but it’s unlikely to work. MPs, including Grieve are worried about dragging the Monarch into this sordid business.

The no confidence motion is more alarming, but while Grieve is independently wealthy, his bridges with the party all burnt – he himself has lost a no confidence vote at the hands of his Beaconsfield local association – other Tory “rebels” have careers and mortgages to worry about. James’ prediction is exaggerated, Brexiteer MP Andrew Bridgen duly called her and Grieve out:

“Voting down the government would require Conservative members [of Parliament] they would then be possibly triggering a general election where they would certainly not be the candidate because they would lose the whip.”

Bridgen went onto lament the crisis in our democracy brought about by a pro-Leave public being betrayed by pro-Remain representatives. Peggy Grande, a former member of Ronald Reagan’s White House makes some excellent points on the subject in a Daily Caller column – see extract below.

The world shows outrage when democracy is absent in places like Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Where is the global outrage over the refusal to execute Brexit? If this thwarting of the will of the people can happen there, it can happen anywhere. The rest of the free world is watching democracy being undermined in the UK and is wondering — are we next?

This is the reality. Someone who finally seems to be waking up to it is Leo Varadkar. Ireland’s Taoiseach has modified his position ever so slightly saying that Northern Ireland would have to be kept in the backstop, but not necessarily the whole of the United Kingdom. This is neither new nor helpful. The EU’s original offer to Theresa May was for a customs border to be placed in the Irish Sea with Northern Ireland remaining in the Single Market.

Even without the DUP propping up the government May – a committed Unionist for all her sins – would not countenance the proposal, but her foolish solution was to lump in the whole of the UK into the backstop with some not inconsiderable additional restraints on the province only.

Nevertheless, thus far, Varadkar has been irritatingly steadfast and smug in lording over the backstop. His slight change of position hints at panic no doubt brought about by his own administration’s ramping up of No Deal preparations, which has highlighted its complete and utter dependence on the UK mainland as a bridge for trade in goods, not to mention Ireland’s dependence on trade with the Britain itself.

On the subject of No Deal planning, appearing on last night’s Panorama Brexit special, the EU’s chief bureaucrat, master manipulator and Anglophobe, Martin Selmayr said that continental Europe was way ahead of Britain with its No Deal preparations. He is of course absolutely correct. Just as credible was his claim that not a single British official issued Theresa May’s famous “no deal is better than a bad deal threat”, not even the lady herself.

We need Boris now.