MPs vote against EU referendum

EU motion is defeated but 111 MPs, including 79 Tories, join the rebellion.

MPs have just voted against the EU referendum motion by 483 to 111 - a majority of 372.

79 Tory MPs (not including the two tellers) defied a three-line whip and voted in favour of the motion, while two abstained, making this the largest ever Conservative rebellion on Europe (the previous record was 41) and the largest Tory rebellion so far this parliament (the previous record was also 41). Indeed, this nearly the largest ever rebellion by any political party on Europe. The previous record, as Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart of Revolts note, is held by Labour, 80 of whose MPs voted against a programme motion for the European Assembly Elections Bill in January 1978.

Tomorrow's headlines will be dreadful for David Cameron but, in my view, he was right to whip MPs against the motion. Britain might be the most eurosceptic country in the EU but the public care less about the subject than some imagine. Polling by Ipsos-MORI shows that just 3 per cent of voters regard Europe as one of the most "important issues" facing the UK. As the economy continues to struggle, Tory MPs obsessed with Europe risk appearing eccentric to the electorate.

I'll post a full list of the rebel MPs as soon as one is available.

12am Update: Unusually, the list still hasn't appeared. We'll post it on The Staggers tomorrow morning.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.