A rare bright spot in the Brexit nightmare

There have been precious few bright moments since the Brexit nightmare started. In fact, I can’t really remember any that didn’t involve being at an anti Brexit protest with other pro-Europeans.

I seriously didn’t expect the Government to lose tonight.  I thought that Tory rebels would express concern but ultimately line up behind Theresa May and David Davis. I felt it was more likely given that May is on the up at the moment. Maybe I was wrong, though. It’s probably easier to rebel on a good day than inflict what may be a fatal act on a government that you support.

I’d got in from work just as the vote was being called and the commentary was all about people thought to be certain Tory rebels now abstaining. My heart sank. But then when the tellers lined up, the opposition side started cheering. A tight vote had gone the right way.

The Government lost by 4 votes. 309 people backed Dominic Grieve’s amendment, 305, including Labour MPs like Kate Hoey and Frank Field, voted with the Government.

My reservation is that there is very little point in Parliament having a meaningful vote if Jeremy Corbyn simply lines up his people to support the Tories in implementing a really unpleasant and painful brexit. Labour did what it was supposed to do tonight, but every time it’s had the chance to do something it says it believes in, like back the single market,  its MPs sit on their hands.

Will they do the right thing as the issues kicked so deftly into the long grass have to be confronted and resolved? Who knows? At least they have the chance, I suppose.

And what of the Lib Dem reaction to the Government defeat? Tom Brake used some novel phrase we’ve never heard before about taking back control:

Tonight, Parliament took back control.

MPs insisted on a meaningful vote and dismissed Ministers’ eleventh hour attempts to buy off the rebels.

This is a momentous day for Parliament and a humiliating defeat for Theresa May.

Now that MPs are to have a meaningful vote on the deal, the British people should get one too.

The Liberal Democrats will keep fighting to give people the final say with the choice to exit from Brexit.

From a Scottish perspective, Christine Jardine accused Scots Tory MPs of putting pleasing Theresa May before the wishes and the best interests of their own constituents .

None of the Scots Tory MPs voted in favour of the successful amendment.  One abstained. Last night  all 13 had voted against the Lib Dem amendment on the single market.

Christine  accused the Conservatives of ignoring the views expressed by their constituents in the referendum when every Scottish constituency voted to stay in the EU. She added that heir actions are now undermining the future of the United Kingdom which they were elected to protect.

There was clear support in Scotland, in every single constituency, for remaining in the EU and this amendment was an opportunity for them to both respect the outcome of the referendum and also reflect the views of their constituency.

When it came to the single market the Scots Tories chose to do Theresa May’s bidding rather than pursue the best deal for all of us.

Tonight they were prepared to let parliamentary sovereignty be undermined. Fortunately good sense prevailed.

Last week they even chose not to defend devolution against the clause in the withdrawal bill which threatens to undermine it, though they themselves criticised that clause.

This Government’s hard Brexit policies which threaten the economy, and confusion over whether Northern Ireland will have a different deal from the rest of the country, play into the hands of those who want to break up the UK.

It’s time the Scots Conservative MPs showed more respect for how their constituencies voted on the EU and thought about the best deal for them rather than the good of their party.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Nom de Plume 13th Dec '17 - 8:51pm

    It is a victory for parliamentary democracy, regardless of outcome. They voted on Atricle 50, now they will vote on the final deal.

  • Richard O'Neill 13th Dec '17 - 9:09pm

    It will be interesting to see what the follow on from this vote is. I get the impression that it has as much to do with clipping the wings of Theresa May as anything. Given the evidence of previous votes a “meaningful” one may result in another landslide for exiting the EU.

    Nonetheless it offers a bit of hope for a softer Brexit. I just don’t see much chance of anything more substantial than that without a massively improved counter-offer from the EU.

    One thing that always depresses me with these votes is the raucous cheering that follows as if were a game.

  • Nom de Plume 13th Dec '17 - 9:41pm

    Clipping the executive’s wings is what parliament is meant to do, as is taking responsibility.

  • ………………………..The Government lost by 4 votes. 309 people backed Dominic Grieve’s amendment, 305, including Labour MPs like Kate Hoey and Frank Field, voted with the Government………

    Caron, I believe Hoey and Field were the ONLY Labour MPs to support the government.. Still why let facts spoil a ‘cheap dig’?

  • Finally Brexit is advancing fast: from the end of the beginning to the beginning of the end in a week’s span.

  • Katharine Pindar 13th Dec '17 - 11:55pm

    This feels like the beginning of the comeback of the Remainers, as well as the welcome assertion of Parliamentary sovereignty. I watched some of the debate this afternoon, and was impressed by its quality. The fact that the impressive speeches were from Tories, Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke and Anna Soubrey, as well as from the leading Labour rebels, amazed and delighted me – these are people with whom our own MPs are surely working well. As the hopelessness of the Brexiteers’ arguments becomes more and more apparent, and staying in the single market and the customs union seems more and more needful, then the absurdity of having half your cake and throwing away the rest may come to seem overwhelming for the country and for Parliament.

  • Richard Underhill 14th Dec '17 - 9:06am

    The media were wrong to describe Dominic Grieve as a rebel. In 20 years in parliament he has only rebelled once, which was on HS2. Voting against parliamentary sovereignty is impertinent. We do not seem to have impeachment in the UK, but in some other countries the actions of the PM and her whips would be considered unconstitutional. She has punished one tory MP by removing his status as a conservative party vice-chairman.
    Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph had a colour photograph of Margaret Thatcher addressing the European Parliament in favour of the single market while the late Ian Paisley carried a placard saying “Ulster says NO”. He did not in those days have the number of MPs in the Commons that his successors in the DUP have now. Northern Ireland voted YES in the 1975 referendum and Remain in the 2016 referendum. There has not been a referendum in Northern Ireland on the border. The Belfast Agreement was supported by referendums north and south which involved changing the Irish constitution.

  • Peter Martin 14th Dec '17 - 10:17am

    This article by Larry Elliot is aimed at the Labour Party but it is equally relevant to Lib Dems. Instead of Brexit the real nightmare could well be the emerging neoliberal/ordoliberal supranational state which is emerging in Europe. Is it really consistent with Lib Dem views to want to be a part of that?

    “It is a big – and debilitating – modern myth that the neoliberal revolution of the 1970s and the 1980s weakened the power of the state.”

    ” A chunk of the party [Labour] – the bigger chunk – thinks the only way to counter the excesses of capitalism is at a supra-national EU level. Yet it is hard to square this belief with the 2007 Lisbon treaty, which commits member states to act in accordance with the principle of an open economy with free competition; frowns on state aid; and lays out disciplinary procedures for governments that run excessive deficits.”


  • @ expats ” Hoey and Field were the ONLY Labour MPs to support the government.. Still why let facts spoil a ‘cheap dig’?” Exactly.

    Twelve Liberal Democrat MP’s can’t and won’t stop Brexit – to think they can is like trying to empty the ocean with a kiddie’s bucket and spade. But maintaining civilised relations with all the other opposition parties might, just might, keep a flicker of light burning.

    On another matter, having watched PMQ’s on BBC iplayer this morning, I thought May was really struggling and looked very shaky. The glum faces on the front bench around her were very telling.

  • John Barrett 14th Dec '17 - 12:09pm

    I fear that the Brexit debate has hit a new low and now consists entirely of those who wish to leave pretending that they know exactly what the future holds, in exactly the same way that those who wish to remain like to pretend the same thing. Those same people are those who failed to predict political and economic events in the past, why they should be so confident of predicting the future baffles me.

    In the last 20 years almost every major event that has influenced modern politics was not predicted, from the attack on the World Trade Centre, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed, the banking crisis, the property bubble and the sub-prime market crash to the results of the referendum, the General Election and the election of Donald Trump.

    I appreciate that any party or MP admitting that it does not know what will happen in the future is unlikely to get much media coverage, as much of our present political coverage is now based on speculation and conviction politicians on any issue, regardless of substance, are more likely to fill the newsrooms. However the lack of honesty in modern political debate, I believe, has clearly hit an all time low.

    One example is in the way that we (a party committed to proportional voting systemsand representation) constantly say that every Scottish MP should vote to remain, as this would represent the will of the people in Scotland, as every constituency voted Remain.

    Scotland actually voted 62% Remain and 38% Leave. All council areas voted Remain.

    Regardless of the rights and wrongs of Brexit, we appear to have abandoned any moral authority about what proportional representation is all about, by claiming that 100% of MP should vote one way, because a majority of people voted on that issue.

    What would the point then be of any opposition MPs councillors or anyone else being elected unless they polled the majority of the vote? Something very few people or parties in the UK (even the SNP) ever do.

  • Tonight they were prepared to let parliamentary sovereignty be undermined. Fortunately good sense prevailed.

    It is a shame that MP’s allowed this (the undermining of Parliamentary sovereignty by the executive) to happen repeatedly over the past few decades, starting with Maastricht.
    However, I suspect ardent Brexit supporters will not see this and simply see this vote as another example of Westminster ignoring the “will of the people”, rather than a sovereign Parliament doing its job.

  • Nick Collins 14th Dec '17 - 4:14pm

    Could someone gently suggest to Tom Brake that crowing about “humiliating defeats” for the Prime Minister is perhaps not the best way of persuading Tory back benchers to vote for future amendments against the wishes of their front bench?

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