Tomorrow marks two years since Britain voted to leave the EU and it’s safe to say we haven’t exactly got our ducks in a row yet. Fundamental questions are still being debated about how, why and if to Brexit, and this week divisions came to a head with the vote on whether to pass an amended version of the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill. The amendment, tabled by the Tory MP Dominic Grieve, sought to enshrine the right for MPs to have a ‘meaningful vote’ on the final Brexit deal, and in the run up to Wednesday night many believed that the Government did not have the numbers to avoid defeat.
Well, in the end it turned out to be the rebellion that never was. The Government won by 319-303, quite a decisive margin considering how close it was expected to be, and it all ended, rather bizarrely, with rebel leader Dominic Grieve voting against his own amendment in Parliament. So what was all that about then? Grieve has been mocked by some as the new Grand old Duke of York – leading his troops to the top of the hill and then marching them back down again. There was an alleged ‘compromise’ from the Government which the rebels claim to have been swayed by, but to most people’s eyes this seemed like little more than a vague statement acknowledging Parliamentary procedure. Nothing meaty.
The most telling thing might be remarks Grieve made after the vote when he said: “We’ve managed to reach a compromise without breaking the Government – and I think some people don’t realise we were getting quite close to that.” The real reason why the Tory rebel bark seems bigger than its bite right now may have been implied here. Theresa May is one (metaphorical) punch away from a knock out, and no one wants to deliver the blow that could push the Party into the chaos of leadership tussles, open warfare, and the possibility of another General Election which they would run a serious risk of losing.
So for now, the first rule of rebel club is you do not actually rebel. There is still no consensus on the key issues, not between Commons and Lords, or between parties, or even within the Tory ranks, but the will to carry on means that, for now, the Government is carrying on.