Another day, another hope of preventing a no-deal Brexit dashed? Dominic Grieve sought to amend legislation designed to allow a further delay in fresh elections to Stormont to prevent the government proroguing parliament – but John Bercow, the Speaker, ruled that the only amendment with real teeth was beyond the scope of the bill.
The government accepted one of Grieve’s amendments, was forced to accept another and was able to resist another – as a result, the government will have to provide frequent updates on the progress (or lack thereof) to restore power-sharing at Stormont but it has no explicit legal obligation to keep Parliament sitting. As it stands, the next Prime Minister may retain the legal power to take the country out of the European Union, whether with a withdrawal agreement or without one, though that will likely be tested in court.
Why such a narrow margin? This time, Labour were able to cap their rebels to just Kate Hoey, but the Conservative rebellion was smaller than we’ve come to expect – just nine Conservative MPs rebelled across the three votes yesterday. The reasons for that are linked: several perennial Conservative rebels judged that the amendments were sufficiently toothless that all they were doing in voting against the government whip was making trouble for themselves locally, while several Labour MPs who are uneasy about measures that might thwart Brexit looked at these amendments and thought they could very easily defend them in their constituencies and to themselves.
The next big hope for Parliament’s opponents of no-deal is that the House of Lords will add a version of Grieve’s rejected amendment to the bill. But the biggest problem for MPs who want to prevent no-deal is to find a mechanism that hits the sweet spot between Conservative and Labour rebels and can meaningfully prevent a no-deal Brexit. They have yet to do so and precious little time left to find the right combination.