The largest Conservative revolt during the Article 50 Bill’s Commons proceedings consisted of seven Tory MPs. It took place on Monday. As Mark Wallace has noted, the biggest one yesterday featured just three. The Government’s grip on events actually strengthened during the passage of the Bill, despite one of the most contentious votes taking place very late – that on the future of EU nationals.
Why? Here are ten reasons. They are not exhaustive. But they help to explain.
- It is hard to vote against the consequences of a referendum that you voted for. Only a single Conservative rebel had not supported it: Ken Clarke.
- Brexit has not brought economic ruin. Far from it. The short-term forecasts of Project Fear have been comprehensively discredited. Had this not been so, there would be more of an anti-Brexit head of wind for unhappy Tory remainers to catch.
- The rebels were divided – and have been since last June. As we have pointed out, it is now the Remain diehards that don’t know what they want. Some want a second referendum. Some want Britain to stay in the Single Market as a member. Some want it to stay in the Customs Union instead. Some want a “meaningful” Commons vote. As time has passed, each position has been rolled back or watered down.
- The rebels had no leadership, and aren’t used to rebelling. The Brexiteers are a fractious lot. But they eventually got themselves together under the umbrella of Conservatives for Britain. The Remain diehards had no equivalent – and one very big name indeed, Ken Clarke, who wasn’t going to be told what to do by anyone else. George Osborne knows that the game is up (as far as the Bill’s concerned at any rate) and went abroad for part of it. The most voluble rebel, Anna Soubry, is not strategic. Above all, the diehards were mostly ex-Ministers. They are used to buying off rebellions – not managing them. They had no revolt-hardened equivalent of Bill Cash.
- The Government managed its concessions skilfully (on the whole). Some were essentially meaningless, such as the publication of the White Paper. Others have been well-timed, such as Amber Rudd’s letter of reassurance on EU nationals in Britain. The hand of David Davis has been evident everywhere. There was only one real foul-up – namely, Ministers and Whips reassuring backbenchers than a Commons vote on any deal will be “meaningful” while Government spinners were telling the media that it won’t be.
- Some unhappy Remainers are waiting for the Great Repeal Bill. Don’t presume that future proceedings will go swimmingly for the Government just because this one did. The Great Repeal Bill will allow much more scope for debate and revolt, and has the potential to offer a lot of scope to the lawyers. Keep an eye on Dominic Grieve, for example – who has kept much of his powder dry during this week’s proceedings.
- The Whips coped. This has been a daunting test for Gavin Williamson, a young and new Chief Whip, and for his whole team. The only conclusion that can be drawn from the numbers is that they passed it with flying colours.
- Party members are backing Brexit. During the Cameron years, much of the membership disagreed with their leadership over the biggest constitutional issue in British politics. Now most of it agrees with Theresa May. So Conservative MPs were under no pressure to rebel. Far from it.
- The Prime Minister looks like a winner… Her popularity in the Parliamentary Party may be more wide than deep. But there is a coherence about the way she has pursued Brexit to date, and most Tory MPs are impressed with it to date.
- …Especially if you look at the Opposition benches. Clive Lewis gone. Jo Stevens gone. Tulip Siddiq gone. Pro-Remain Labour members resigning in droves. Pro-Leave Labour voters massed in the Midlands and North. Rumours again of Jeremy Corbyn wanting to stand down. Diane Abbott claimed to have a headache and her party has a real one: how to reconcile its pro-Remain London base with the rest of pro-Leave England. This doesn’t look like a party that’s ready to govern any time soon.
Oh, and P.S: Brexit emphatically backed by the Commons. Parliamentary support for it established beyond doubt. Thank you, Gina Miller!