May's Commons Defeats, Put Simply

By Campaign Agent Ethan Moxam

Finance Amendment

Theresa May suffered a crushing defeat in parliament on Tuesday, by both Labour and Conservative MPs, in a vote that curbed powers in parliament to halt any preparation for a no deal Brexit.  MPs voted 303 to 296 in favour of an amendment to the finance bill which was tabled by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, which alters the government’s tax administration powers in the event of a no deal Brexit without the authorisation of parliament.

This is seen as a grand victory for MPs who are united behind the amendment, and are expected to use this win to propel further parliamentary action to prevent the UK from crashing out of the European Union.

While Conservative MPs were whipped to vote against the amendment, twenty of them rebelled against the government to back the amendment. Among the 20 ministers who backed the amendment were former cabinet ministers Michael Fallon, Justine Greening, Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke, and Sir Oliver Letwin.

Sir Oliver Letwin said: “The majority tonight that is expressed in this house will sustain itself. We will not allow a no-deal exit to occur at the end of March”. 

No. 10 had stated before the vote, that a defeat would be “inconvenient rather than significant”. While it is true that the amendment may have little affect on preparations for a ‘no-deal’ exit, as some experts have pointed out there are other ways for the government to raise money- this does clearly show there is a parliamentary majority opposed to the UK leaving the EU without an agreement.

Yvette Cooper’s amendment means that new power could only come into force in the event of a Brexit deal, a decision to extend article 50, or a vote in the commons aimed specifically at approving a no-deal Brexit. Cooper admitted that although this would not block a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, it does “set a precedent”, showing that MPs will not allow the UK “to just drift into it by accident”.

Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who applauded Yvette Cooper in the chamber as their victory was announced, said: “this vote is an important step to prevent a no-deal Brexit”

Business Motion Amendment

On Wednesday, Theresa May suffered her second Commons defeat in just 24 hours, after a coalition of rebel Conservative and Labour MPs claimed another victory in a Brexit vote. The vote means that the government will now have only three days to come up with a revised plan, in the event of Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal being rejected. 

Prime Minister Theresa May lost the vote by 11 votes; the government was originally expecting to have 21 days to respond with a ‘plan B’ if May’s deal was to be voted down. However, MPs backed the vote for the government to respond in just three days, with the deadline likely to be on Monday 21 January. The amendment to the business motion was drawn up by former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve. However, this resulted in chaos and fury from Conservative MPs, as they pointed to the Commons precedent that business motions could only be amended by ministers.

Following this, furious Conservative MPs reprimanded speaker, John Bercow, for allowing the amendment. Bercow responded that he could in fact make the decision, as he would side with the interests of parliament rather than that of the executive. 

In response to Grieve’s actions, Theresa May has said that if her deal is voted down, any debate over ‘plan B’ would be no longer than 90 minutes and only one amendment would be allowed.

Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, said that Bercow should publish the advice he received from the Commons clerks. Downing Street stated the government was advised that the motion was not amendable. Despite this, Bercow insisted that the advice he received from clerks would remain private. He stated that he was not required to recite precedent, and that although the amendment prevented debate, it did not prevent further amendments- stating, “if we were guided only by precedence nothing in our procedures would ever change”.

Corbyn’s Brexit plan

Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has made calls for a General Election in order to ‘break the deadlock’ over Brexit. Mr. Corbyn said that a new government would provide a fresh mandate, capable of providing a better deal with the EU. In a message to the Prime Minister, Corbyn said: “if you are so confident in your deal, call that election, and let the people decide”.

While the majority of Labour have supported a second referendum, Mr Corbyn has resisted calls for him to get behind the campaign. Instead, he has insisted that forcing a General Election is his top priority in the event that Theresa May’s deal is voted down on Tuesday. This came as a blow to those in his party who support a second referendum, who hoped that this would be a pledge in a future election. Instead, Corbyn stated that Labour being elected would mean “a renewed mandate to negotiate a better deal for Britain.”

Labour will vote against May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday, and if it is voted down, will seek to trigger a General Election. The Labour leader has said that the party’s Brexit plan involves negotiating a customs deal and forming what he called a “strong single market relationship”, which would bring together both sides. When asked if the General Election would happen immediately, Corbyn responded that Labour would “table a motion of no confidence in the government at the moment we judge it to have the best chance of success”. He has since conceded that Labour may need to seek an extension to article 50 if they were to win a snap General Election. 

If a majority of MPs were to support a no confidence motion, the government would then have 14 days to try and win a second no confidence vote. If the government fails to do so, a General Election would then be held.

Following his speech, Corbyn also rejected an offer from the government for more protections on workers’ rights, as the prime minister said she was willing to support a Labour backbench amendment to enshrine EU rules in workers’ rights. This is of course in return for Labour backing May’s Deal. According to sources within Labour, there were concerns that such an amendment would have little legal effect.

Sources and Further Reading

Image: David McKelvey @flickr

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