As you may have seen, it was a pretty big evening in politics last night. The government was defeated 328-301, and barring some huge upset, rebels will today begin the process of legislating for an extension to the Brexit deadline until January 31, unless a deal or no deal is ratified in Commons. It was, of course, a bad night for Johnson. Despite attempts to read some sort of brilliant, Cummings-designed strategy into the way events have played out since the prorogation announcement last week, Johnson will now almost certainly be forced to go to the country before Brexit has been delivered, a situation he freely admitted to fearing during the leadership campaign.
Johnson’s lack of material progress towards a deal was harshly exposed in the Commons yesterday, as he blustered and obfuscated in response to repeated requests to see the detail of any alternative to the backstop. There were denials yesterday that his senior adviser Dominic Cummings had described the talks with the EU as simply a “sham”, but there was deafening silence from the government as to whether the Attorney General had advised that no deal would be inevitable without the backstop. As Stephen points out in his snap analysis from last night’s vote, this wasn’t a sudden change from Johnson’s seemingly smooth sailing over the summer: rather, the recess simply obscured the Prime Minister’s parliamentary problem from view.
Labour, meanwhile, found temporary unity over Brexit. Party sources were delighted last night with the numbers: only two Labour MPs voted with the government (Kate Hoey and John Mann, as expected) and only another two (Kevin Barron and Derek Twigg) abstained. The effort to make the legislation palatable to Leavers paid off, and allowed Corbyn to show leadership over the one thing the party can unite behind: opposition to no deal.
There will be some criticism of Labour’s inevitable vote against the government’s move to call a general election today (they won’t vote for it unless the anti-no deal legislation is passed), but cut through the noise and two things are clear: 1. The opportunity to lead the opposition to no deal is a gift to Corbyn, allowing him to shore up credibility among those who weren’t his natural admirers before a general election. 2. However Labour votes on an election today, they will be voting for one very soon indeed.