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Last night in the House of Commons, MPs were given the chance to finally break the exasperating Brexit deadlock and force Theresa May into seeking a much softer form of Brexit. However, thanks to votes from all eleven Independent Group MPs, plus five Liberal Democrats and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, both soft Brexit compromises were narrowly defeated.
Had these staunch pro-Remain MPs voted in favour, rather than against, the two Brexit compromises on the table – a Customs Union deal proposed by Ken Clarke, and Nick Boles’ so-called ‘Common Market 2.0’ deal which advocates continued membership of the Customs Union and Single Market – both would have received majorities.
However, if the 17 MPs had simply abstained on Clarke’s proposal, rather than actively rejecting it, it also would have passed – a decision which would have effectively consigned Theresa May’s thrice-rejected deal to the dustbin of history.
Before last night’s indicative votes, both the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Labour Party made significant compromises on their stated positions to back proposals on the table.
The SNP – who have made no secret of their desire to stop Brexit entirely – whipped in favour of Nick Boles’ Common Market 2.0 proposal, adding 35 votes to the tally. However, given their long-held support of Free Movement, the SNP made the widely welcomed decision to abstain – rather than actively vote against – Ken Clarke’s Customs Union deal.
Furthermore, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party also made major compromises on their own Brexit stance – which currently proposes an end to Free Movement – by also whipping its MPs in favour of Boles’ Customs Union and Single Market deal.
In addition to this, Labour also whipped in favour of the proposal for a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal – a highly controversial position which has caused significant consternation within the Shadow Cabinet.
Both the SNP and Labour did receive some criticism – mostly from their opponents – for their shifts in position. Yet, the vast majority of reaction was positive – with people seemingly delighted that, finally, major parties were showing the Tory government how things should be done, and that a truly compromising, grown-up politics, really was possible.
Thus far, the Brexit process has been mired by Theresa May’s minority government stubbornly refusing to back down on any of their red lines to seek a glaringly necessary cross-party consensus with MPs in Parliament. This three-year long belligerence has also been routinely compounded by hardcore Tory Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) staunchly refusing to give their support to virtually any kind of Brexit deal, other than a so-called ‘clean-break’ No Deal exit.
However, yesterday’s second round of Indicative Votes were supposed to be the time for opposition MPs to shine – a chance to finally whittle down the options and force the government into supporting a clear route forward which could provably command a majority of the House.
Yet, once again, MPs were not able to find any consensus – with Ken Clarke’s Customs Union deal falling short by just 3 votes; Nick Boles’ Common Market 2.0 proposal being defeated by 21 votes; and Peter Kyle’s Second Referendum motion defeated by a small margin of just 13.
However, following the publication of last night’s voting records, it became clear that the failure to find a majority for any proposal was not simply a matter of numbers – it was a matter of utter intransigence on the side of hardcore Remain MPs.
Because, whilst the SNP decided to simply abstain on the motion they did not support – thus not adding to the difficulty in seeking a majority for any deal – 11 Independent Group MPs, 5 Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, actively voted against both compromised Brexit deals.
Had these 17 MPs simply abstained, rather than actively voting against, Ken Clarke’s Customs Union proposal would have gained a clear majority – passing by 273-259.
Furthermore, had these 17 MPs also simply chosen to abstain on Nick Boles’ Common Market 2.0 proposal, the margin of defeat would have been just 4 votes. And if they had supported it, it would have passed.
Following the defeat of his motion, Boles’ took the incredible step of resigning the Tory Whip live in the House of Commons – blaming the narrow failure of his motion “chiefly” on the fact that his own party “refuses to compromise“:
— Evolve Politics (@evolvepolitics) April 1, 2019
Yet, just to compound Boles’ anger, immediately following his tearful resignation, the Independent Group MP, Anna Soubry, issued a statement that truly belied the group’s arrogance and outright hypocrisy – claiming that, despite The Independent Group literally voting down his motion and indicating their own May-esque refusal to compromise, Boles would be “very welcome” to join their party.
The Independent Group/Change UK's @Anna_Soubry just said that the newly Independent MP Nick Boles would be more than welcome in their new party.
This is despite her and the rest of their group literally voting against Boles' Common Market 2.0 motion tonight.
— Evolve Politics (@evolvepolitics) April 1, 2019
Unsurprisingly, given the fact the Independent Group had effectively just mirrored the Tories’ intransigence by actively voting his motion down, Boles did not accept Soubry’s offer.
What we’re seeing now, from both staunch Remainers and hardcore Brexiteers, is effectively one and the same – a childish refusal to seek compromise in the blinkered pursuit of nothing but their own aims, vehemently opposing absolutely everything that stands in their way.
What the last three years of utter Brexit turmoil have shown us is that the only way forward is with cross-party consensus. Yet, with staunch ideologues on both sides of the divide – ones who actively vote against things that do not meet their exact criteria – the country will surely be left with no other option than to change the Parliamentary arithmetic in a General Election.