James Forsyth

What the government’s ‘no-deal’ defeat in the Commons actually means

What the government's 'no-deal' defeat in the Commons actually means
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The government has been defeated in the House of Commons. Yvette Cooper’s amendment designed to limit the Treasury’s ‘no deal’ powers has passed by seven votes.

Now, the Treasury view is that the changes mandated by this amendment are ‘fairly minor’ and won’t stop no deal from happening, or the government continuing to prepare for it. But what this vote does show is that there is a Commons majority to frustrate ‘no deal’.

If this coalition wants to stop a ‘no deal’ Brexit, rather than just make one more difficult, and the government really is prepared to go down this route, then they would have to do more than pass amendments such as this. Ultimately, they would have to be prepared to bring down the government if they wanted to be absolutely certain of preventing it.

But tonight’s victory for the anti-no deal coalition is a significant moment. Rebelling against the government is one of those things that gets easier the more you do it and so the 20 Tory MPs who voted against ‘no deal’ tonight, can be expected to keep on doing so. I also suspect that the more they do this, the more they’ll be prepared to escalate: to take more dramatic steps than they are currently prepared to. For this reason, I am sceptical about whether a government pursuing a no deal Brexit could command the confidence of the House.

It is, though, worth remembering that if no deal is to be stopped, MPs have to agree to put something else in its place—whether that be Mrs May’s deal, an extension or revocation of Article 50. At the moment, there doesn’t appear to be a majority for any of these options. As long as that’s the case, then ‘no deal’ remains a possibility and tonight’s amendment has only ensured that it will be more disruptive than it otherwise would have been.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

Topics in this articlePolitics