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The crucial words in yesterday’s Government motion were that the Commons “reiterates its support for the approach to leaving the EU expressed by this House on 29 January 2019”.

That risked being read as a reference not only to the Brady amendment (which supported the removal of the backstop) but also to the Spelman amendment (which effectively called for No Brexit if the choice was between No Brexit and No Deal).

Remainers such as Guto Bebb and Justine Greening were never going to vote for Brady.  And Leavers such as Steve Baker were never going to vote for Spelman.

There are more members of the European Research Group than Conservative second referendum supporters, which helps to explain why the former are in the spotlight this morning.  But most of both joined in not backing Theresa May.

So why did the Government not slap down a bland motion that didn’t risk giving second referendum supporters and ERG members alike  reasons or excuses to revolt?

One explanation being floated by Government loyalists is that Downing Street or the whips or both were attempting to stave off the resignation of pro-Soft Brexit and Remain Ministers over the prospect of No Deal.

But most of these seem to believe that they don’t need to quit yet to achieve that end.  And there is a questionmark over whether many will at all.

Another is that the whips or Number Ten or both were trying to thwart the Letwin/Cooper/Boles attempt to make the legislature, in effect, the executive.  But there was no prospect of the Commons voting for that plan yesterday.

Then there is a conspiracy theory – that the whips were seeking to flush out the number of ERG members who might in due course oppose a deal with an amended backstop, but miscalculated.  This is fantastical.

To date, the EU appears to have decided that it would rather negotiate with Theresa May than the Commons.  That is the most natural reading of its decision to engage in further talks with the Government after the House voted for the Brady amendment.

So a further question this morning is whether the EU will pull the plug during the next few days.  If it doesn’t, then the consequences of the Government’s defeat yesterday will be few.  If it does, they could be many.

Either way, experienced hands like Robert Syms and Nicky Morgan were asking yesterday afternoon what on earth the Government was trying to achieve.  Perhaps today will bring answers.

264 comments for: Why did the Government craft its own defeat yesterday evening?

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