MPs had one certain chance to prevent a no-deal Brexit. They decided not to

Some regular Tory rebels felt that the time is not yet ripe, while some Labour MPs feared that the vote would be seen as frustrating Brexit.

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Is no deal inevitable? Jeremy Corbyn’s motion to prevent a no-deal Brexit was narrowly defeated in the House of Commons yesterday, after ten Conservative rebels were cancelled out by 12 Labour MPs going the other way – eight voted against the motion while four were absent without leave.

It’s the same combination of factors that has defeated attempts to soften or stop Brexit in the past and the same combination that frustrated Yvette Cooper’s first attempt to delay no deal in January 2019: some regular Tory rebels felt that the time is not yet ripe, while some Labour MPs feared that the vote would be seen as frustrating Brexit. Both believe they will get another chance to vote to prevent no deal.

The numbers are certainly there to do so. Several Labour MPs who have consistently voted for the deal and against measures they regard as attempts to stop Brexit have privately said that if they are forced into a choice between no deal and revoking Article 50, even they will take the option of revocation. There are also many Conservative MPs who sat this one out because they are backing candidates who they still hope could defeat Boris Johnson. And, most importantly of all, the number of opponents of no deal is going be swelled because at least some ardent critics of no deal, such as Philip Hammond, are going to end up on the backbenches, regardless of who emerges as leader. As Katy Balls reveals in the Spectator, Theresa May warned the cabinet this week that while they had got used to Brexiteers voting against Brexit, the next leader will have to adjust to a new reality of Remainers voting against no deal.

There’s a but coming, though, and it’s a big one: what if Boris Johnson doesn’t want to bring back the deal with a fresh coat of paint? What if he does decide to go for no deal? Yesterday’s vote also boosts his argument to Conservative MPs that when push comes to shove, parliament will shy away from the concrete and radical moves it would have to make to actually prevent no deal. I wouldn’t bet heavily on that in his shoes, but nor would I bet heavily against it.

It would be a democratic outrage if the new prime minister opted to mothball parliament to get their way but it would be within their powers. MPs have narrowly opted against their one certain chance to change that and they are not guaranteed to get another.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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