Finally! Theresa May and the Tories Suffer a Major Defeat on Brexit as MPs Secure a Meaningful Vote on the Final Deal


The Theresa May Brexit float, set up by campaigners for the UK to remain in the EU.

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Congratulations to MPs, who, yesterday evening (December 13), voted by 309 votes to 305 to give themselves a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal that Theresa May and her small clique of dangerous and deluded Brexit fantasists were planning to pass without including MPs at all.

In the end, the Labour leadership persuaded all but two of its MPs (Frank Field and Kate Hoey) to vote for the amendment, in a move that was obviously difficult for those from constituencies that voted Leave. The amendment was tabled by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, and its supporters in the Labour Party, and all the smaller parties except the DUP, were joined by eleven Tory rebels — as well as Dominic Grieve, Heidi Allen, Ken Clarke, Jonathan Djanogly, Stephen Hammond, Sir Oliver Heald, Nicky Morgan, Robert Neill, Antointette Sandbach, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston. Hammond, a vice chairman of the party, was almost immediately sacked, and the Daily Mail proceeded to damn the rebels on its front page, causing Keir Starmer to comment, in a tweet, “When judges uphold the law, they are branded enemies of the people. When MPs uphold democracy, they are branded traitors. Never has it been more important to reassert our values.”

In a day of passionate debating in Parliament, which often saw the Tory right attacking their colleagues, as tends to be the way with Brexiteers, who are prone to threats and hysteria, Dominic Grieve gave a passionate half-hour speech regarding his amendment. He “warned that the bill as it stood would unleash ‘a form of constitutional chaos’”, as the Guardian described it. He “said he had sought to engage with ministers to find a compromise, but without success: ‘The blunt reality is, and I’m sorry to have to say this to the house, I’ve been left in the lurch, as a backbench member trying to improve this legislation.'” Labour’s Yvette Cooper said, “This is an important moment. The House of Commons has tonight voted against the government’s attempt to concentrate power and against letting a small group of ministers take crucial decisions on the details of Brexit without Parliament having a meaningful vote.”

Ever since a slim majority of the British people voted to leave the EU on June 23, 2016, in a referendum that should never have been called, and that was not legally binding, I have waited for a coherent demonstration of resistance from MPs, as a crucial step towards what I, and millions of other people believe, implacably, to be a necessity for the future survival of the UK in any meaningful way that bears a relationship to who were are and who we want to be.

A hard Brexit, of the type that the hapless Theresa May leans towards, as she placates the far right of her party, will be a disaster — savagely damaging our economy, and, it has emerged since the referendum, feeding into the enthusiasm of these unsavoury MPs for the UK to become a tax haven — or, I should say, even more of a tax haven than it already is — but one with a decimated job market, no protections for workers, citizens or the environment, and, fundamentally, no state provision of services beyond the barest minimum.

I have, for about six months, been reasonably content to reflect that if the Tories go ahead with this plan, it will destroy them, because their contempt for the majority of the population of the UK fails to recognise that around a third of the public have to actively vote for them if they are to retain power, and yet a hard and EU-hating Brexit of the kind the isolationists seek will be such a crushing blow to the economy that they will not get away with it.

Along the way, I have also assured myself that Labour, grappling with its problematical Leave contingent of voters, has contented itself with sitting on the fence, waiting for the Tories to destroy themselves, and, I think, with the talented Keir Starmer driving the Brexit resistance and Jeremy Corbyn, a natural Eurosceptic, like so much of the left, coming round to the correct view of Brexit as an unacceptable Kamikaze mission.

However, it is no good reflecting that Brexit will destroy the Tories if it also dooms the economy, and so the only options for our national suicide to be stopped have also involved one of two options: either a second referendum, or such a meaningful role for Parliament that MPs can not only block a hard Brexit, but can also end up making a compelling case for why a soft Brexit is not actually much of a Brexit at all, and perhaps we should reconsider the rashness and folly of the referendum outcome, stay with the EU for all its flaws and seek to reform it from within. Certainly, anyone paying close attention to the issues cannot fail to have realized that we need the single market, we need the customs union, we need immigration (as numerous parts of the economy and infrastructure of the country, including the NHS, are already beginning to collapse with the departure of EU citizens), we ought to be ashamed of how EU citizens here, and UK citizens in the EU, are now treated as second-class citizens, and, in any case, we cannot leave because a hard border in Ireland may well revive civil war, a predicament that anyone Irish or Northern Irish knew from the beginning but that the Brexiteers, as with so much about Brexit, aggressively ignored.

From June 2016 to July this year, I covered Brexit closely, looking at the disgraceful way in which the Brexiteers sought to exclude Parliament, and the resistance led by a brave citizen, Gina Miller, who succeeded in getting the courts to rule against the government. I then watched in shock as MPs gave away the powers the courts recognised that they had, and by the summer, after Theresa May’s disastrous election, but when she was still clinging on to power, and the Brexiteers in government were enthusiastically planning to give themselves dictatorial-type powers to import 43 years of EU law into UK law, and then decide, without Parliament, what they wanted to keep, I retreated from Brexit entirely, for the sake go my mental health, publishing a final message for Jeremy Corbyn, You Represent Hope Not Just Because You Oppose Austerity, But Because You Must Save Us From Brexit, and recommending that anyone who cared to keep track of the relentless idiocy of the government follow Ian Dunt of, the author of the essential book, Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?

Now, however, I’m glad to break my silence. As Polly Toynbee explained in her latest Guardian column, “At the referendum the Brexiteers said sovereignty was sacred; but now it turns out that ‘taking back control’ means rule by their diktat, without the deliberation of our sovereign parliament.”

Parliament has, it seems, finally taken a decisive move to consign a hard Brexit to the dustbin of history; now what we need is for the absolute folly of any sort of Brexit to be recognised and acted upon, without any more mumbling cover from MPs of claiming to respect “the will of the people.” The people were duped, the people were lied to, and, in any case, no sane or rational country would allow a decision that will change history for a generation to be made on a simple majority. Two-thirds or 70% majorities are traditionally required for major constitutional decisions, and that should have happened last June.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2017), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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11 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, congratulating the MPs who swung the vote against the government and for former Attorney General Dominic Grieve’s amendment guaranteeing MPs a meaningful vote on the final terms of Brexit in spring 2019. The amendment won by 309 votes to 305, so thanks to the 11 Tory rebels, and thanks also to the Labour MPs who didn’t simply pander to their Leave voters. I hope that now the tide is genuinely turning, and that we are moving towards stopping the idiocy of Brexit once and for all.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Is anyone out there picking up on this? So often these days I seem to find myself hurling articles out into the void with little or no response. I sometimes wonder if Facebook’s algorithms are making my work less visible, or if I just have nothing to say that’s of interest. Hoping there are people who care about last night’s vote as much as I do!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    The algorithms can be capricious

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, David, I’ve been wondering about what kind of barriers are in place, but hidden, since reading about how left-wing sources have seen a drop in traffic as a result of dubious attacks on “fake news” by those policing social media.
    Here’s troubling news from last week about Facebook recruiting the right-wing serial liars of the Weekly Standard to fact-check:

  5. Andy Worthington says...

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    And an article here about the decline in traffic on left-wing sites as a result of heavy-handed intervention by Google:

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Andy Yes I’ve seen it widely reported too

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    I haven’t checked my stats for years, David – probably should. But anecdotally, I see more traffic here generally from when I post photos than when I post articles – that could be algorithms prioritising images, or it could just be down to how the overwhelming majority of people respond to photos more than text – hence the success of Instagram in the social media field, and hence, when it came to abuse in the “war on terror”, the photos of the Abu Ghraib scandal were absolutely essential for engendering outrage in a way that no amount words could ever achieve.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s human rights lawyer Schona Jolly explaining why “[m]ost of the Brexit rebels are lawyers”:

    The article begins:

    The government’s EU withdrawal bill is one of the most significant pieces of draft legislation in decades. Rushed into parliament without a draft text, it bears profound flaws. Such complex legislation, with such critical implications for our constitutional future, should not be decided by a hurried command from ministers.

    The precise wording of it matters because the implications affect us all, and the rule of law is threatened by uncertain laws. As the House of Lords constitutional committee said in September: “The executive powers conferred by the bill are unprecedented and extraordinary and raise fundamental constitutional questions about the separation of powers between parliament and government.”

    It was not particularly surprising, then, to see that the majority of the Tory rebels in Wednesday’s dramatic defeat of the government had legal backgrounds.

  10. Tom says...

    If you oppose Brexit and ask legitimate questions based on facts, you still get screamed at for being “unpatriotic”.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Brexit is such a nightmare, Tom. These people are everywhere now, threatening everyone with their bigotry and intolerance.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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