May's Historic Defeat

By Campaign Agent George Royce

In the run up to the vote on 15 January, there was a considerable effort by the May government to begin pressuring their stance. An exchange of letters between the Prime Minister and the EU (written by Tusk and Juncker) was publicly presented. May and her Cabinet as well as Remain MPs in the Tory Party tried to use the contents of the letter to make their final ultimatum. The letter addressed to Theresa May gave verbal assurances that the backstop will have a timed limit. However nothing was offered in terms of legal text which would be changing the negotiation stance of the EU.

However, Brexiteers in the Party and in the DUP were not convinced and Nigel Dodds said on social media that “Rather than reassure us, the Tusk and Juncker letter bolsters our concerns.” The hope from the government was that Brexiteers will believe the assurances and then vote for May’s deal in the Commons. In the run up to the vote, government ministers were threatening that if May’s deal were to be voted down, that a second referendum would be very likely. May denied that she would extend Article 50 or hold a second referendum in an interview with Robert Peston. Yet, she did not emphatically rule out either. A government whip Gareth Johnson resigned at around 1pm and wrote in his letter to the Prime Minister that he would also be voting against her deal.

Early this morning, the positions on both sides hadn’t changed very much. Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, said on social media that her party will vote against Theresa May’s deal. The Prime Minister has tried many times to get Foster on board with her plan but in talks, Foster confirmed that May admitted to her that she did not try to have the backstop eliminated from the deal. David Davis revealed what he had personally experienced in the negotiations when he was Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. He said that Merkel herself said that “Britain mustn’t benefit from Brexit.” The same line from the government was being towed in that voting for May’s deal is the only way to get the best agreement. Cabinet members were showing their support on social media as well.

As the Speaker moved to the amendments, incredibly, Jeremy Corbyn, Ian Blackford and Edward Leigh all refused to move their amendments. This moved the biggest vote in Parliament in modern times forward. The first amendment therefore became John Baron’s, which aimed to allow the UK to end the backstop without the EU’s permission. The meaningful vote then came at around 7:40pm. There were some early predictions that Theresa May would incur a landslide defeat by around 150 to 200 votes. Just before the vote was due to go ahead, the Vice Chair of the Conservative Party Tom Pursglove also resigned to vote against May’s deal.

As the Speaker demanded order, the Commons quietened. Theresa May’s deal achieved 202 ayes, and 432 noes. The biggest vote in modern political times, and the biggest defeat in modern political times. Immediately after the result was announced, Theresa May stood up and said that the house has only proclaimed what it doesn’t support. Thus leaving an open-ended question; what does it believe in?

After Theresa May’s brief speech, Jeremy Corbyn stood up and proclaimed that she had abjectly failed in her single purpose and that the house has no confidence in her anymore. Labour whips were already tabling a no confidence vote in the government and shortly thereafter, Corbyn announced that a no confidence vote in Her Majesty’s Government will be held tomorrow at 7pm.

A whirlwind of varying opinions on how to proceed came from many MPs. Live on Sky News, Boris Johnson said “I will certainly vote for her and the Conservative government, because one thing I do not want is Jeremy Corbyn taking over as our Prime Minister”. The DUP’s Sammy Wilson said that “We will support the government tomorrow.”

It soon came to light that 118 Tory MPs voted against Theresa May’s deal. This is one more Tory MP than voted against her in the 12 December no confidence vote. With 70% of the Tory Membership wanting a ‘Hard’ Brexit, it seems like the battle within the party is going to be between renegotiation and WTO rules Brexit.

After two and a half years, Theresa May’s sole important policy and aim has been dashed to pieces in the Commons. The majority against her is an astonishing 230 in the Commons. The Prime Minister wields no authority or power in the Chamber.

The ERG is said to be holding a meeting that will, in fact, champion a No Deal, while Theresa May’s Cabinet will set forth their plans to go back to Brussels. Meanwhile, Corbyn and Labour will try to make way for a snap General Election, while also bringing up the idea of holding a second referendum.

Sources and further reading

Official Government website, “Exchange of letters between the UK and EU on the Northern Ireland backstop”, (14 January 2019)

Nigel Dodds, “Dodds – PM should ask for & deliver changes to Withdrawal Agreement”, (14 January 2019)

Nicholas Mairs, “Government whip Gareth Johnson quits ahead of Commons vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal”, PoliticsHome, (14 January 2019)

Arlene Foster, Quote from official Twitter Account, (15 January 2019)

Carly Read, “Britain MUST NOT benefit from Brexit’ David Davis reveals SHOCK Merkel warning”, The Express, (14 January 2019)

Tom Davidson, “Tom Pursglove resigns as Tory Party vice chair to vote against May's Brexit deal”, The Mirror, (15 January 2019)

Anna Mikhailova and Jack Maidment, “Brexit vote result: Theresa May defeated by record margin of 230 MPs as Jeremy Corbyn tables vote of no confidence”, The Telegraph, (15 January 2019)

Anna Mikhailova and Jack Maidment, “Brexit vote result: Theresa May defeated by record margin of 230 MPs as Jeremy Corbyn tables vote of no confidence”, The Telegraph, (15 January 2019)

The Spectator, “The full list of 118 Tory MPs who voted against May’s Brexit deal”, The Spectator, (15 January 2019)

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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