The days of debate on the Article 50 Bill ended with a flurry of votes on proposed amendments tonight, all of which were rejected, and ultimately with the Bill itself passing third reading by a margin of almost five to one.
Given that the hype beforehand had been that “up to 27” Conservative MPs might rebel on one or more amendments, it was pleasing to see that tonight there wasn’t even a rebellion as large as yesterday’s seven.
The largest Conservative rebellion came on New Clause 57, which attempted to pre-emptively guarantee the residency rights of EU citizens in the UK, and that was limited to three MPs – Ken Clarke, Tania Mathias and Andrew Tyrie. In that division, they were outweighed by six Labour MPs who voted with the Government: Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Rob Marris, Graham Stringer and Gisela Stuart.
On a few other amendments Clarke found himself the lone rebel, a role to which he seems to have resigned himself.
When the third reading vote came, he reprised it once more – joining 52 Labour MPs who chose to rebel against Corbyn’s three-line whip on the matter. The sight of the Opposition splintering is a reminder of how well the Government whips have done to first keep a lid on and then shrink the threatened Tory rebellion.
Two battles now lie ahead. The first, long expected, is the progress of the Bill through the House of Lords. Some EU enthusiast peers will no doubt now try to amend the Bill but they will have a harder time of it now that the Commons has approved it unamended, further adding to the already strong democratic mandate for leaving the EU.
The second battle will be within the Labour Party. Corbyn’s position was already confused, but it’s getting worse. Opposition frontbencher Barry Gardiner was on BBC News after the vote and attempted to argue that he was strongly opposed to the Brexit that he had just voted for. The sight of Tim Farron punching holes in this line will not improve the mood in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Nor will the news that Clive Lewis preferred to resign as Shadow Business Secretary rather than follow Corbyn’s three-line whip.
The loss of Lewis is a blow to Corbyn personally, as he was once viewed as a reliable Corbynite and even as a possible heir apparent. Factionally, it will raise concerns among the already somewhat paranoid inner circle that Lewis is planning a challenge, now that he has aligned himself with the many Labour members who are yet to accept the referendum result.
In terms of party management, it also adds to Corbyn’s existing frontbench headache following the loss last week of three other Shadow Cabinet members for the same reason. With the vast majority of Labour MPs opposed to him, numerous people already sacked or resigned from the Shadow Cabinet and a very limited pool of loyal supporters, he is already suffering from a lack of talent in his team. Who else is left for him to appoint to fill the vacancies left by Maskell, Butler, Stevens and now Lewis? At least Diane Abbott loyally followed her leader into the Aye lobby tonight, unlike last week, but that looks like very cold comfort indeed.