The Speaker
Wednesday, 24 July 2024 – 23:21

So close yet so far – but it’s back to square one

‘Super Saturday’ was how the historic first Saturday sitting in Parliament since the Falklands War was dubbed. However, it was anything but super for Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Conservatives after they faced yet another defeat.

Instead of giving Johnson their backing in a ‘meaningful vote’, MPs passed an amendment tabled by a cross-party group of MPs led by Sir Oliver Letwin by 322 votes to 306 – a majority of 16.

The prime minister said he was not ‘daunted or dismayed’ by the defeat, and would press ahead with tabling Brexit legislation next week.

The move by cross-party MPs was aimed at forcing Johnson to comply with the terms of the Benn act, which obliges him to write to the EU to request a Brexit delay, if he had not won approval for his deal by 11pm.

It was perhaps fitting that in close proximity, in Parliament Square, a Peoples Vote rally was in full flow, as the pendulum may well have just swung in their favour.

In fact, supporters of the campaign reacted jubilantly as the results trickled through.

Additionally, they would have been buoyed by the sentiments of DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds who revealed him and his party will be looking over the amendments on offer, including one for a second referendum.

If the DUP decide they would rather safeguard Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom than leave the European Union, then their backing for a People’s Vote could be enough to get the amendment passed.

That would mean any amendment for a second referendum could get parliament’s approval.

This may just have thrown a lifeline to the opposition parties. On Friday, the prospects seemed bleak, as the forecasts and predictions signalled Johnson may well have the numbers for his deal.

Had the vote taken place as a straight showdown without the Letwin amendment and passed, Johnson would have been hailed as the Brexit hero, the man who harmonised the bitterly divided political landscape and honoured his pledge of delivering Brexit by the 31st of October.

This would have bolstered his ratings in the eyes of the public, as recent polls show two in five people want Parliament to accept Johnson’s deal. In such a scenario, the likelihood is he would storm an election and Brexit can move on to the next stage.

But as is the norm when it comes to Brexit, the process is a lot of things, except straightforward.

Johnson has sent an unsigned letter to the EU, although making it clear he does not wish to extend. He will attempt to bring back his deal for a vote next week, but it is likely to be amended, with leader of the Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson ready to table a motion stipulating the deal can pass so long as there is a confirmatory referendum.

The European Council could then maybe grant an indefinite extension until the deal is passed. With 202 out of 226 polls since the initial June 2016 referendum putting Remain in the ascendancy, Johnson and his Eurosceptics will be wary of handing the decision back to the people, as it could spell the conclusion of their fantasy.

This would set the terrain up perfectly for a currently nullified Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party to reignite the betrayal claims and chastise Johnson and his party for deceiving the public and failing to deliver Brexit on time.

Meanwhile, Johnson will intensify his claims that he is hampered by a remainer Parliament, as he returns to his ‘People v Parliament’ rhetoric.

And amidst all of this, the divisions will only expand, as encapsulated on Saturday, when MP’s from both sides of the Brexit spectrum, including Labour’s Home Secretary Diane Abbott and Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg were heckled and had to be escorted by the police.

So three and a half years on from the vote to leave the EU, the culmination of the Brexit saga is still not in sight. Oliver Letwin and the remainers won the battle on Saturday, but the battle is ongoing. In some ways, it’s back to square one with more uncertainty and still no resolution approved in Parliament.


Photo of Boris Johnson, 2017 | Credit: Chatham House via Flickr under licence (CC BY 2.0)







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