Katy Balls

Government plays divide and rule with Remain rebels

Government plays divide and rule with Remain rebels
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Oh dear. Although it was widely accepted that either the Tory Remainers or the Tory Brexiteers would be furious when the government published its compromise on the meaningful vote amendment, one had hoped that the peace might have lasted at least until the amendment was out. That wasn't to be.

Before the amendment was even out, Remain rebels were crying foul. The important thing to note about the government's so-called compromise amendment is that it says it would be 'a motion in neutral terms. This means that Parliament would only get a 'meaningful' vote along the lines of  'this House has considered...'. That would be unamendable – so Parliament could not amend the government’s proposals.

The problem is Remain rebels say they were led to believe they would have more of say and that it would be amendable. It falls short of Grieve's wish to have it so MPs could 'direct' the government in the event of no deal being reached by Feb 2019. As a result of the confusion, they have been quick to see red – insisting it is not what they had agreed. Dominic Grieve – the Remain rebel ringleader – is conveniently on Question Time this evening. No doubt Chief Whip Julian Smith will be watching with particular interest.


Given that this group of would-be rebels now feel both hurt and angry, expect more fireworks when the bill returns to the Commons. It's hard to see this group taking any last-minute reassurances from the Prime Minister next time around if they don't trust her to deliver them. The biggest problem for No 10 now is that this group could feel galvanised to get table and back Dominic Grieve's original amendment which binds the government's hands much more than the so-called compromise.

But there is another element to all this – that No 10 is attempting a game of divide and rule. The Brexiteers say that this amendment should be acceptable to anyone – unless they are actually trying to thwart Brexit. Some in government think that the amendment will divide the rebels – pit the Brexit-thwarters against their more pragmatic colleagues. It's a risky strategy but given that so far only a handful of Remain-ers have gone public with their issues, it could just work.