On Thursday 14th February, which some have renamed the Parliamentary Valentine’s Day massacre, 41 Labour MPs voted against their leader Jeremy Corbyn and their whips while around 60 Conservative MPs chose to abstain on a Government motion. I was one of them.
Two weeks earlier, I had voted against an amendment that argued that a No Deal Brexit should be taken off the bargaining table with the EU. I could not agree with that and neither could the Government. It would be like a trade union negotiating with a business while saying to them “Don’t worry; even if we don’t come to an agreement we still won’t strike or take any action against you”.
The Government were keen that we vote against the motion and I was too. However, a combination of Opposition MPs and some Conservatives who wish to keep us in the EU or its Customs Union defeated the Government by a small margin.
Thursday 14th was not meant to be a dramatic day. The Government had planned to table an anodyne motion simply saying that it was carrying on negotiating with the EU.
Instead, some not so bright spark at Number 10 Downing Street, an official, drafted a motion which endorsed the decisions taken by Parliament and so implied the Government is now supporting taking ‘No Deal’ off the table. While the Government swiftly denied this was the intention with both the Prime Minister and her official spokesman saying otherwise, the motion was already on the Order Paper.
Although the Government Motion wasn’t binding, because it wasn’t introducing legislation, a Parliamentary decision cannot be taken lightly. After some considerable discussion with my colleagues we decided not to vote against the Government, but instead to abstain from the vote. The tight Parliamentary numbers meant the motion was defeated. Two other votes were held immediately beforehand with motions against the Government in which I did vote and they were defeated too. So the evening was a no score draw.
The whole episode was unfortunate and unnecessary. As the distinguished Parliamentary journalist and observer, Paul Waugh, put it: “Another day, another series of Commons Brexit votes. In many ways, it ought to be a non-event, given that all but one of the amendments are non-binding (Sarah Wollaston’s tries to tie May’s hands but lacks Labour support). The government’s approach to the Commons is to basically maintain a holding pattern while May tries to get a better deal in Brussels. This is a waiting game as the PM once more plays it long. Boring her opponents into submission, while keeping nervy Remainer ministers onside, is the plotline of Groundhog May.
“Indeed, the original plan was to make today a mere staging post by tabling a ‘neutral’ motion that ‘This House notes…’ the government’s current position. That way all the focus would be on the amendments. Yet in one of those too-clever-by-half moves that ends up being plain dumb, someone in No.10 decided to table a substantive motion that opened up a whole can of worms for Brexiteers, because it endorsed MPs’ plans to block ‘no-deal’.”
Of the 650 MPs in Parliament, few have ever worked in business, and their backgrounds are diverse. Journalists estimate that as many as 500 MPs of all parties voted Remain in the EU Referendum; and to greater or lesser degree they are determined to maintain close ties with the European Union by one means or another.
I voted Leave and by happy coincidence, so did the clear majority of my constituents. To coin a phrase: ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and to me, and to others, that means a clean break from the bureaucracy and costs of the EU when we leave.