Who is the real winner from yesterday’s business in the House of Commons? The government avoided defeat on every contested motion but at the cost of making further concessions on the scope of parliament’s final vote on the Brexit deal, while Brexiteers secured the coveted legislative demand of enshrining the date we leave the European Union in law.
The big development is the disarming of the last big Brexiteer gun: the ability to secure the hardest of exits but deposing Theresa May as Conservative leader, getting one of their own in as Prime Minister, and simply waiting until the Article 50 clock runs down and the United Kingdom leaves without a deal.
Instead, the PM has gone from having one stick to beat Leavers with to two: she can now say to her ultras that they have a choice between the EU27 on one side and parliament on the other, which will take control of the negotiations if an accord isn’t reached by November and deliver the softest of exits from the European Union. While May can’t quite take the rest of the week off, she is in a stronger position as far as domestic reaction and the final deal goes than she has been for some time.
The other big winner is Jeremy Corbyn. The myth that Labour could keep us in the EEA has been exposed as just that: a myth. There are, quite clearly, too many Labour rebels to outweigh the Tory dissidents. To put it plainly: there isn’t enough Ken Clarke in the Conservative Party to make up for the amount of Caroline Flint in the Labour Party. The Labour leader has moved closer to his preferred flavour of exit and it has become harder for his internal opponents to use his Euroscepticism as a wedge issue with members.
But the flip side of that is that the chances of an early election are also receding alongside the prospects of a Brexit that leaves the United Kingdom in the single market. Even though Corbyn’s preferred version of exit may be closer today than it was yesterday, his chances of forcing a contest that could get him one step closer to Downing Street are also in retreat.