WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
This afternoon, Parliament voted to “wait and see” on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. It won’t give its approval until it has the chance to consider, and pass all of the laws needed to make it happen. Boris Johnson desperately wanted a straight “yes” before those votes started.
This doesn’t necessarily mean a 31st October Brexit has been stopped. However, it does mean the Prime Minister is required by law to send a letter seeking an extension to Article 50 while these votes are completed. Supporters of the amendment say it is an insurance policy against the UK “crashing out” if something goes wrong (or if the process is sabotaged) between now and Halloween.
But supporters of the Government suspect an ulterior motive. They believe the opposition will use those votes on the Brexit Bill to smuggle in a commitment to membership of a Common Market, or to a referendum.
Either way, it is not a good place for the Prime Minister who once said he “would rather be dead in a ditch” than send the letter he is about to write this evening.
HOW DID MIDLANDS MPs VOTE?
Most MP’s in our region voted along party lines. That is, Conservatives tried to throw out the amendment, and Labour MPs voted in favour.
The one exception was - unsurprisingly - the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, John Mann, a longstanding supporter of Brexit.
But what of those other Labour MP’s who want to back a deal and get Brexit through?
Gloria de Piero (Ashfield), Ruth Smeeth (Stoke on Trent North), and Gareth Snell (Stoke on Trent Central) were all tempted to support Boris Johnson today. They might well have voted for him had it not been for the amendment. But they chose to vote the amendment through, giving themselves a little breathing space.
Other amendment backers from the Midlands included Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) who was kicked out of the parliamentary party by Boris Johnson last month, and Nick Boles (Grantham & Stamford) who left the party earlier this year.
Notably, Margot James (Stourbridge) who was also kicked out by Boris Johnson, stayed loyal and voted against the amendment.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Despite his protests, most commentators agree that Boris Johnson WILL write the extension letter to the EU tonight (the deadline is 23:00), and that the EU is likely to approve an extension.
But then what?
The numbers are probably there for the Government to win a straight “Yes / No” vote on the deal. Indeed, they are trying to introduce a rerun of today’s vote on Monday.
If that’s allowed, they might be able to force things through and the extension becomes irrelevant.
But it is against Parliamentary rules to vote twice on the same question (especially in the space of two days), so that probably won’t work.
In which case, the Government will have to introduce its Brexit Bill as quickly as possible, and try to fight off any amendments.
Already some Brexit-sympathetic Labour MPs have said they intend to use this time amend the deal to something more closely aligned with the EU. Perhaps a new Common Market.
There will certainly be an attempt to make the Brexit deal subject to a referendum.
And there are even suggestions tonight that Northern Ireland’s pro-Brexit DUP could contemplate backing a second referendum, after they were - as they see it - betrayed by Boris Johnson and his supporters.
Another fraught week lies ahead.