According to Dominic Walsh of Open Europe, who yesterday looked forward to today’s vote in detail, the most frequent Conservative rebels on the Remain-leaning side of the Parliamentary Party are as follows: Guto Bebb, Ken Clarke, Justine Greening, Dominic Grieve, Phillip Lee, Oliver Letwin, Antoinette Sandbach and Ed Vaizey.
Bebb, Grieve and Lee declared for Sam Gyimah in the Conservative leadership election. Clarke and Sandbach are supporting Rory Stewart. Letwin and Vaizey are for Gove.
These calculations are important if one wants, as political anoraks must, to unravel the tangled connection between the Commons vote and the Tory election.
Essentially, today’s motion seeks to take control of Commons business on June 25 away from the Government. As an Opposition Day motion, it breaks new ground, in that Jeremy Corbyn is necessarily at the front of the manoeuvre. As a Commons procedural device, it doesn’t: Letwin, together with Grieve, Yvette Cooper and others have deployed similar motions before.
With the aid of the Speaker, those motions have been tabled, and some of them have succeeded. These have delayed, though not annulled, Britain’s departure from the EU (with No Deal). Theresa May was under no requirement to go along with them in seeking extensions, but would almost certainly have faced a no confidence vote had she not not, and would probably have lost them.
Today’s motion seeks neither a further extension nor revocation. But it creates the possibility of the Commons seeking to do either – or something else altogether – on June 25. It thus buttresses the main point about the Brexit state of play which this site has sought to hammer home again and again: there is likely to be no majority for any course of action in this Commons, including No Deal.
It doesn’t necessarily follow that a No Deal Brexit on October 31 can’t happen (the EU has to make its own decision on matter, for a start). Nor that prorogation is impossible. But the motion does give a sense of what any new Conservative leader is up against, and makes an early general election more likely. It is on the ground that he is the candidate most likely to win such an election as Prime Minister that we have endorsed Boris Johnson.
If today’s motion passes, and if the Commons then endorses, say, emergency legislation to block Brexit on June 25, the new leader could find his premiership wrecked before it had even begun.
The Attorney General says that prorogation would be against the spirit of the constitution. Delaying or cancelling Brexit would be neither. But it would clearly be against the spirit of democracy.
The British people supported leaving the EU in 2016 in record numbers. The two main parties committed themselves to do so in the 2017 general election.
If votes for pro-Remain and pro-Leave parties in the European parties are totted up, and Labour is placed in neither column (as is right), there is no electoral evidence that the view of the public has changed.
No wonder Michael Gove rushed out a Tweet yesterday declaring that “while I would prefer to leave the EU with a better deal, we must not rule out no deal. If ultimately it came to a choice between no deal and no Brexit, I would choose no deal. Labour’s plans to seize control of the business of the Commons must be resisted”.
The leadership candidates know that votes for today’s Labour motion are votes for a Corbyn-led device. They cannot afford to be associated with anything that takes his institutionally Marxist, anti-semitic and racist party even a step near Downing Street.
This is why Rory Stewart, who first hinted yesterday that he might support the motion, then dashed on to Twitter too to say that he will not. (Were he or any other Cabinet member to vote with Corbyn today, he or she will have to be fired, in any event. We presume that none will take the route previously taken by Amber Rudd, Greg Clark, David Gauke and David Mundelll, and abstain.)
Letwin and company may ultimately have to choose between their commitment to avoid a No Deal Brexit and forcing a general election that Corbyn would be likely to win. They are not the only group or faction on the Conservative backbenches who face an agonising choice: it is conceivable that members of the European Research Group could face a choice between an election and No Brexit.
But sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. A vote for today’s motion is a vote for Corbyn’s Labour – or at least one that strengthens its position. Not to mention a V-sign to the manifestos on which both main parties stood in 2017.