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Friday 15 March 2019

Parliament didn’t take back control last night, although it very nearly did. As expected, the government’s motion to extend Article 50 “to agree with the European Union a one-off extension of the period… ending on 30 June 2019 for the purpose of passing the necessary EU exit legislation” passed, 412-202.

However, an array of amendments coordinated between former Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, Hillary Benn and Jeremy Corbyn all failed. Reason for cheer at the end of a terrible week in Parliament.

First up for division was Wollaston’s amendment. It failed miserably, suggesting that, for all the doom and gloom, the chances of a second referendum remain thankfully remote. The amendment failed to reach triple figures. Only 85 voted in favour, 334 against, including 18 Labour MPs. Not a single Tory voted in favour, although the likes of Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke Jo, Johnson and Antoinette Sandbach all abstained.

That sizeable caucus of Tory Remainers voted for Hillary Benn’s follow-up amendment, summoned on the back of Wollaston’s failed attempt, and intended to seize control over the withdrawal process from the government. The buzz around Westminster was that, by virtue of Jeremy Corbyn’s backing – the Labour leader had a similar offering, which gave way to Benn’s – this amendment would succeed.

It didn’t, going down 312 to 314, a very close shave for the nation, given how unrepresentative the House of Commons and how rapacious their version of independence is. Indeed, if they were to gain control, they might not permit withdrawal from the EU at all. fifteen Tories backed Benn (see below). Helping to cancel them out were six from Labour.

Prior to debating, the omens were bad. Of the two second referendum amendments tabled – for and against – only Wollaston’s was selected, even though the amendment to block a loser’s vote, tabled by the European Research Group had 127 signatures.

“What are we to conclude from your own views on these matters?” Bernard Jenkin asked biased John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons.

Shortly before the House divided to vote on Benn’s amendment, media reports anticipated it would pass. Fortunately, it was not to be, although given how tight the margin, the threat of a Commons takeover lingers.

The motion itself did of course pass, another step backwards for our cause. As a minor consolation, seven cabinet ministers voted against it: Liam Fox, Chris Grayling, Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss, Gavin Williamson and Stephen Barclay.

Theresa May had permitted a free vote, the minor revolt was extraordinary nonetheless. Brexit Secretary Barclay had closed the debate urging MPs to vote with the government before entering the division lobby to do the exact opposite. Chief Whip Julian Smith also voted against. The Remainer media is having a field day, but these actions are of a much lower order than the abstentions of four cabinet ministers on Wednesday evening that barely caused a rumble.

One of those abstainers, David Gauke was told to resign shortly afterwards, report the Sun. Juniour minister Richard Harrington, who has been the most public member of the government lobbying to rule out No Deal, was also under fire.

However, both Gauke and Harrington refused, sparking threats of a mutiny. “It was all of us – or none of us,” said a source, adding:

“And there were other ministers who voted with the government on No Deal who would have gone too. The whips realised it wouldn’t work.”

It’s moments like these where May exposes her weaknesses as a leader. When it comes to obstructionist Remainers, the prime minister has the grassroots on her side, she should have the guts to sack the lot of them. Bring on the mutiny. Not that she’s the least bit motivated. She’s a Remainer herself after all.

For an examination of real leadership and steel, look no further than the DUP. Geoffrey Cox has looked into the Vienna Convention to find a legal argument to defend the Irish backstop on the basis that unilateral withdrawal is possible. Article 62 of the convention lays out terms for breaking a treaty. However, the Telegraph report Cox’s new advice has gone down like a lead balloon. The ERG’s panel of lawyers, which includes the DUP’s leader in Westminster, Nigel Dodds have scathingly ruled the interpretation, “erroneous” and “badly misconceived”.

A layman would have come to the same conclusion. Only in the event of a “socially destabilising effect on Northern Ireland” could Britain resort to the Vienna convention. Flying pigs might as well be the set criteria.

Nevertheless, we should be wary of the DUP. They insist they are still in talks with the government. “The donors have turned off the taps,” a source informs the Sun. Businesses are “turning the screws” on the DUP “through every possible channel with all sorts of threats,” another tells the FT.

All of which spells more chaos. Parliament doesn’t have control, but that doesn’t mean anyone else does.