Just over a week after Theresa May narrowly survived a revolt by Brexiteers which saw several resignations including that of Brexit minister David Davis and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, on Monday evening May faced another cabinet rebellion, this time by Tory “remainers“, when May barely scraped through Customs Union amendments with a nail-biting margin of just 3 votes, and only after 3 Labor MPs voted with the government. More from the Guardian:
The government majority was reduced to just three votes on the most controversial amendment after leading Tory remainer Anna Soubry complained that the prime minister had lost control of events by making concessions to the rightwing European Research Group of MPs.
The reason for the Remainers ire is that earlier in the day, May unexpectedly had caved in to Brexiters by accepting their amendments to a customs bill to head off a leadership challenge before the summer break. The most important of the four amendments proposed earlier in the day from the hardliner Brexiteer European Research Group of MPs, or ERG chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, had been designed to frustrate May’s compromise proposals over customs arrangements agreed at Chequers and had been initially been opposed by the government until Downing Street made a sudden U-turn in the afternoon.
But wait, weren’t Brexiteers furious last weekend precisely because May sided with remainers when she presented her controversial white paper? Why, yes, it is: what happened is that in the span of ten days, May went from angering Brexiteers, who threatened to overthrow May, to infuriating remainers, in the hope of placating Brexiteers.
Or as political correspondent Emily Ashton writes, “the government has narrowly avoided a defeat – by three votes! – from Tory Remainers over an amendment that it only backed in order to avoid a defeat from rebel Brexiteers.”
So the government has narrowly avoided a defeat – by three votes! – from Tory Remainers over an amendment that it only backed in order to avoid a defeat from rebel Brexiteers.
— Emily Ashton (@elashton) July 16, 2018
And some say US politics is confusing.
In any case, what happened earlier in the day is that Theresa May accepted all four amendments by the Conservatives’ European Research Group to today’s taxation/customs bill. The amendments were as follows:
- The UK will only collect duties for the EU if Brussels agreed to reciprocal arrangements
- A requirement the UK has a separate VAT regime from the EU
- A requirement that the government tables primary legislation if it wishes to keep the UK in a customs union
- Enshrine in law that there cannot be a customs border down the Irish Sea – a border May has repeatedly ruled out anyway.
The most important of the four amendments from the ERG, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, had been designed to frustrate May’s compromise proposals over customs arrangements agreed at Chequers and had been initially been opposed by the government until Downing Street made a sudden U-turn in the afternoon.
Surprising pundits, May concluded that all four amendments were “consistent with the Brexit white paper”, a decision that so incensed Tory remainers that they vowed to vote against the amendments in Monday night’s Commons debate.
As a result, the Monday night vote barely passed: the ERG customs union amendment barely passed by 305 to 302, with three Labour MPs voting with the government. A second ERG amendment, preventing the UK joining in with the EU’s VAT regime post Brexit, also passed with a 3 vote margin, 303 to 300. But not before another political casualty emerged: junior minister Guto Bebb resigned, rather than support the ERG customs union amendment, and joined the rebellion against the prime minister’s customs plan.
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Going back to the leading Tory remainer, Anna Soubry, she had told the Commons that “The only reason that the government has accepted these amendments is because it is frightened of somewhere in the region of 40 members of parliament – the hard, no deal Brexiteers, who should have been seen off a long time ago and should be seen off.”
She asked: “Who is in charge?…is it the prime minister or is it the member for North East Somerset [Jacob Rees-Mogg]”.
For may the flip-flop was strategic, and improved her prospects of making through to the summer break without a leadership challenge. Last night, it emerged that Downing Street had proposed bringing forward the summer recess to Thursday, to reduce the time for Conservative MPs to hold a confidence vote if one were called, although Labour and some Tory MPs indicated they were considering voting against any attempt to impose an early holiday.
A total of 48 MPs have to write letters to the party’s backbench 1922 committee calling for a confidence vote, which is normally organised a couple of days after it is called . May would need to win the support of more than half of the party’s 316 MPs to win it.
Then, on Monday morning, May indicated that it had concerns about this amendment and its impact on the customs plan. But there was a change of mind after Rees-Mogg held talks with the party’s chief whip, Julian Smith.
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So for now, Theresa May has avoided political death, but only by a 3 vote margin.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that as rumors of plots against Theresa May swirl around Westminster, a plan is being drawn up to send members of Parliament away on their summer vacation early.
The House of Commons will hold a vote on Tuesday on a move to break up early for the summer recess, according to a person familiar with the matter. The vacation is due to start on Tuesday 24 July but would begin at the end of business on Thursday 19 instead if lawmakers back the plan.
The reason why May – who is under pressure from both pro and anti-Brexit wings of her Tory party and has suffered a succession of resignations from her government team – is now scrambling to send her Party on vacation It’s far harder for legislators to coordinate their opposition to May if they’re dispersed around the country or the rest of the world on vacation and Parliament is not sitting. An early vacation would certainly give welcome breathing space to the government.
There are even bigger problems facing May: as a result of today’s vote, she must now try to persuade the EU to collect U.K. tariffs on goods destined for Britain as part of her Brexit plan.
Meanwhile, as May pivots almost daily to extend her political life, in some cases literally by days, fears are growing that there is now no Brexit deal – not the Chequers plan, nor David Davis’s Canada-style trade deal, nor a no-deal scenario – that could command the backing of a majority of MPs.
In other words, May may still be around but Brexit appears all but dead.