By Hugo Dixon.
Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan and their band of Tory MPs are national heroes. Yesterday they put the country’s interest ahead of their party.
These so-called mutineers have ensured that parliament will take back control from Theresa May and have a meaningful vote on whatever, if any, divorce deal she manages to cut with the EU. But, more important than that, their victory will boost morale among pro-Europeans in parliament and the country, while helping the stop Brexit movement gain media attention and money.
Pro-Europeans were on the back foot for a year after the referendum. We lost by only a slim margin. But MPs, friendly media and activists lost hope. The Labour party was in the doldrums. Donors were reluctant to put money into what seemed like a lost cause. We were stuck in a vicious self-fulfilling cycle of despair.
But since the prime minister’s election catastrophe in June, the tables have turned. MPs have stuck their heads above the parapet, the Labour party has started to act like an opposition, activists have gained heart and journalists are more open to the idea that Brexit may not happen after all. There has been a shift in public opinion – in particular, in favour of the people having the final say on Brexit.
Donors are also coming out of the woods. InFacts, for example, has raised half of its recent £370,000 fundraising target – money that will be used to promote our content far and wide, and so spur further changes in public opinion.
We’re on a roll
Last night’s victory means the stop Brexit movement is on a roll. The virtuous self-fulfilling cycle of hope should now turn faster.
Amendment 7 to the EU Withdrawal Bill isn’t about stopping Brexit. It merely ensures that the government can’t implement any divorce deal without first getting parliament to pass legislation approving it. Nor are the Tory mutineers, or for that matter the Labour party, trying to stop Brexit – yet.
But a year is a long time in politics. If public opinion continues to shift against Brexit and the prime minister comes back with a terrible deal, as she almost certainly will, parliament will refuse to rubber stamp it. The sensible approach will then be to ask the people whether they still really want Brexit.
All that is for the future. For now, the main thing is that last night has created new momentum for our cause.
Most important, 11 Tory MPs refused to be bullied into submission. Morgan said The Telegraph’s decision last month to vilify them as mutineers backfired.
Renewed attempts to nobble them are likely to boomerang. The government’s decision to sack Stephen Hammond, an unlikely rebel, as vice-chairman of the Conservative Party for London has merely strengthened his resolve.
Nadine Dorries MP has called for the mutineers to be “deselected” and accused Grieve of “treachery”. Her attacks seem to be backfiring. Nick Timothy, May’s former chief of staff, tweeted that: “For all the talk of deselections, everybody should calm down.”
The Daily Mail has also overreacted. It splashed photos of the 11 rebels on its front page with the headline: “Proud of yourselves?” The answer will probably be: “Yes, we are.”
Meanwhile, recriminations are rife within the Tory party. Many are blaming the whips for incompetence, not doing their maths properly and bullying. Others are blaming May for not listening. Dissension within the government’s ranks is good news for pro-Europeans.
May shows poor judgment, again
The prime minister’s judgment has yet again been found wanting. Following her catastrophic decision to call an election, she has now fought and lost a pitched battle in parliament.
May’s problem is she faces a repeat next week when she’s trying to amend her own bill to put March 29, 2019 into law as the Brexit date. Tying the country’s hands in this way is foolish, as it could mean we crash out of the EU when a short extension of the deadline could save us from disaster. She’s only proposing it as a sop to hardline Brexiters. But the mutineers are making clear they’ll face her down.
So what will the prime minister do? If she backs down, she’ll look weak. But if she fights and loses another battle, she’ll look even weaker. Whatever happens, the sugar high she got from last week’s preliminary divorce deal – which was actually no reason to celebrate despite the propaganda to the contrary – has vanished.
Beyond the Tory Party
Jeremy Corbyn isn’t a pro-European. He didn’t even raise Brexit at yesterday’s prime minister’s questions. But Labour has scented blood. So it swung behind Grieve’s amendment. Only two Labour Brexiter MPs, Frank Field and Kate Hoey, voted with the government.
Meanwhile, pro-European activists have seen the value of campaigning. Several groups pushed Tory MPs to back Grieve’s amendment. Given the narrowness of the victory – 309 to 305 – they may well have tipped the balance.
Finally, the rest of Europe has noticed how our parliament has taken back control. Before the vote, Manfred Weber, who leads the largest group of MEPs in the European Parliament, remarked how most Brits want the final say on Brexit according to a recent poll. More and more politicians across the English Channel and the Irish Sea will join him in wondering whether Brexit might not happen after all. And the more that happens, the more cancelling Brexit will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What happened last night was absolutely bloody wonderful. We can defeat Brexit. Yes, we can.
By Hugo Dixon.