After a run of successfully seeing off various amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, tonight the Government was defeated on Dominic Grieve’s amendment, by 309 votes to 305 – a margin of four.
There were 11 Conservative MPs who voted for the amendment:
Ministers’ last-minute efforts to persuade some of the would-be rebels did produce some who switched sides at the last minute – Chelmsford’s Vicky Ford reportedly wavered at the division lobbies before backing the Government’s position.
Some others opted to abstain rather than to rebel. As ever, it’s difficult to be certain who consciously abstained and who might have been absent for other reasons (illness, for example), and so we must be cautious in ascribing motives to those who didn’t vote either way. We can be certain, however, that Carlisle’s John Stevenson actively abstained, because he cast a vote in both lobbies – leading some outlets to erroneously report him to have rebelled. Other confirmed abstentions came from Paul Masterton, who announced he had decided to abstain due to Government concessions, and George Freeman, who tweeted about withdrawing his opposition and didn’t vote either way. Charlie Elphicke also told the House he disagreed with the Government on the topic in question, and then didn’t vote (he has been voting on other amendments since, so is evidently still in the building).
In such tight votes the difference can sometimes be made by the votes of Brexit-supporting Labour MPs, of whom there are at least half a dozen. Kate Hoey and Frank Field voted against the amendment, but some of their fellow Eurosceptic Labourites either objected to the principle of the issue or couldn’t resist the temptation to defeat the Government.