Political editor WALTER CRONXITE on how jobless figures in Croydon might increase by three, but perhaps not for a little time yet
So, has Brexit become Texit?
After last night’s performance at Westminster’s Palace of Varieties, where Theresa May, the Prime Minister, announced that she would leave Downing Street before the next phase of negotiations with the European Union – hence Theresa-exit, or Texit – the real answer is that no one really knows. Especially not our MPs.
In an unprecedented step in 800 years of parliamentary history, last night MPs had to fill-in long ballot papers, rather than the usual walk through the lobby, to cast their votes. Steve Reed OBE, the Progress MP for Croydon North, described it, somewhat sniffily, as “government by multiple choice”.
In the end, it didn’t make much difference: all eight “indicative votes” on how Britain should exit the EU failed to win a majority.
“After two ‘meaningful votes’ that proved meaningless, we’ve now had indicative votes that indicate nothing,” observed one wag.
Just before 6pm last night, in what was described as a “sweaty room” in the House of Commons, May told a meeting Tory MPs that she would stand down as their leader once an EU withdrawal agreement had been passed by parliament.
Yes, that same withdrawal agreement which had been thoroughly rejected twice before. Once by a hisorically large majority against the government.
Thing is, those committed Brexiteers who had previously rejected May’s deal as being worse than membership of the EU, saying that it would make Britain a “vassal state”, in the words of Jacob Rees-Mogg, had somehow transformed their views of May’s deal.
Boris Johnson has called May’s EU deal “appalling”, a “humiliation” and “a historic mistake” which would turn Britain into “a colony” of the EU.
Last night, with the renewed prospect of him becoming leader of the Conservative Party, Johnson was telling fellow Tory MPs that he intended to vote for May’s “appalling”, humiliating mistake of a deal. Funny, eh?
But while May appeared to have managed to get Rees-Mogg’s European Reform Group’s backing for Meaningful Vote III, or MV3 in the jargon of the Westminster bubble, even her £1billion bribe of government money to Northern Ireland’s DUP group in parliament is not enough to get them to vote for her deal.
Which had the revolving Rees-Mogg doing another 180-degree about-turn again. If the DUP can’t be brought round, he told ITV last night, then “I will support the DUP, if they are still opposing it.”
A source at Westminster told Inside Croydon that the DUP’s position was “full-on, kamikaze bonkers”.
“They’re either going to drive the country off a cliff with no deal, lose Brexit entirely through a second referendum or risk losing their negotiating hand if the Tories cut their losses and call a General Election,” said the source in the corridor of power.
So the Commons stalemate looks like remaining (for want of another word).
Thing is, unless the Speaker, John Bercow, allows Mayhem a third go at getting her deal through Parliament, either tomorrow or on Monday (and there’s no immediate sign that he will allow such a vote), then despite the promise to stand down as Prime Minister, May could be hanging around Downing Street like a bad smell for some time yet.
Because what some in the broadcast media were mistakenly describing last night as May’s “ultimate sacrifice” (no, Channel 4 News, Theresa May is not laying down her life for the cause, just her job prospects) will only actually happen if parliament agrees to her deal.
At least such a non-development might be welcomed by gaffe-prone Gavin Barwell and his Croydon cronies working in Downing Street – councillors Mario Creatura and Jason Cummings – as it means that they can cling on to their well-paid jobs for a while longer.
Chris Philp, the Conservative MP for Croydon South, emerged from the sweaty room full of his Tory colleagues to tell Inside Croydon of his reaction to May’s announcement: “I respect her decision. She has sacrificed her position to serve the national interest by helping the deal pass.”
Before the indicative votes had been cast, and before the DUP threw their billion-pound spanner in the works, Philp said that he thought MV3 would take place on Friday this week, part of a process to allow Brexit to happen on the agreed, revised date of April 12.
“I hope the Prime Minister’s announcement means the deal vote passes when it comes back, most likely on Friday and thus we deliver the referendum result while protecting jobs and trade and avoid a general election in chaotic circumstances,” Philp said.
Last night’s parliamentary ballot paper gave MPs eight different options for the next steps in the Brexit process, including leaving without a deal, revoking Britain’s departure from the European Union, or seeking a customs union.
Ken Clarke’s customs union proposal came closest to securing a majority, losing by eight votes – 272 to 264. Ten TIGgers – the independent group of splitters from Labour and Conservatives which includes Streatham MP Chuka Umunna – opposed this, condemning it to failure. Twelve Labour MPs also voted against it. Meanwhile, most of the Liberal Democrat MPs abstained, while one voted for, and one against. You’d struggle to make this shit up.
Margaret Beckett’s proposal for a second referendum to validate any withdrawal agreement received the most votes, 268, but 295 MPs – including Philp – voted against it.
Labour’s alternative plan was the only other option to get more than 200 votes.
Of Croydon’s MPs, Philp voted in favour of only one option, that proposed by Tory backbencher Marcus Fysh, listed as option “O”, suggesting contingency arrangements in the event that a withdrawal agreement cannot be agreed. Otherwise, Philp either voted against or, in the case of the “No Deal” option, absurdly abstained.
Croydon North’s Reed opposed Fyshand also voted against John Baron’s No Deal proposal (option “B”). Otherwise, he voted in favour of the other options.
Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones voted in a similar pattern, writing on Twitter, “I voted tonight in favour of Corbyn, Clarke, Boles, Beckett, Cherry. I voted against Baron and Fysh. I abstained on Eustice” (George Eustice proposed an EFTA and EEA deal with the EU, somewhat like that under which Norway operates with its European neighbours).
In the end, it all meant that the Commons overwhelmingly rejected every single type of Brexit, and no Brexit.
Jones seemed less discouraged by the whole process. “Progress made tonight even though it may not seem like it,” she tweeted.
“I voted tonight for everything that I could live with on the basis of what would be best for people in Croydon. Although no option won, a few came a lot closer than the Prime Minister’s deal.
“In particular, two motions got more votes than the PM’s deal, Beckett and Clarke. Those should be the focus for Monday,” Jones, pictured left, said.
The process that led to Wednesday’s debate and indicative votes has also allowed time for a second series of votes on Monday, which Speaker Bercow has said he will permit.
Oliver Letwin, the former Tory minister whose amendment created the multiple-choice process, today said the lack of a majority for any of the options this was to be expected.
“Of course the issue is – and nobody knows the answer to this yet – whether we can get to the point where parliament has a majority in favour of an alternative on Monday,” he told BBC Radio.
“MPs will be voting on the basis of seeing what happened last time. And something else will have happened, which is that either the prime minister will have got her deal through on Friday, in which case all this is unnecessary and I’ll be breaking open the bottle of champagne.
“If it doesn’t then I think people will finally see that that isn’t going to happen by April 12 and I think quite a lot of Tories who didn’t vote for any of the options because they were, perfectly honourably, taking the view that until they had a last chance to vote for the prime minister’s deal, they didn’t want to commit themselves to anything else, may come round and say: ‘OK, we’ll choose among these options’.”
So that’s all clear then…
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