It was inevitable really. Theresa May was always going to end up losing a vote on Brexit at some point. 11 MP’s rebelled against the Government and voted in favour of an amendment put forth by Dominic Grieve which ensured that Parliament was to have a say on any deal that the Government negotiates.
Most commentary on this has quite rightly focused on what this means for the Brexit process (Hint, not much. The meaningful vote that parliament will get will be between no deal and the governments deal, the rebels, given their views, are unlikely to back anything which drops them into the WTO fall-back position), BUT there are a few other things that I think are worth looking at and summarising in one place.
1) The First casualty of May’s General Election failure.
Imagine Theresa May didn’t call the 2017 General Election. She’d have gone into this vote with a Government majority of 12, as well as the DUP vote and a handful of Labour rebels. All 11 of the rebels could have voted against the government and the amendment would have still failed. The loss of this vote can be seen as the first real casualty of Nick Timothy’s attempts to re-define Conservativism at the most unhelpful and dangerous time ( ie, in an election). This isn’t particularly a major point in and of itself, but it’s worth pointing out if for no other reason than to say this is quite possibly the first of multiple losses ( keep your eyes on the debate about whether or not we should hard code the date of Brexit into British law) all of which can be traced back to Tory’s failures in the 2017 election.
2) The Growing Split on the Right
Based on the front pages of certain newspapers, and the tweet storms that have emerged from parts of the right on Twitter you’d be forgiven for thinking that Parliament had voted to overturn the result of the referendum. After all why else would Nadine Dorries start calling for the de-selection of her colleagues?
Maybe it’s because rebellion itself is a bad thing? Given Dorries has rebelled over 40 times herself, it’s almost certainly not the notion of disloyalty that’s causing her to get antsy. No, it’s the fact that Brexit itself is being questioned.
Brexit continues to be an almost quasi-religious feature of faith for parts of the right, and the increasing tenacity to which some members of the Tory party are prepared to question Brexit is causing some tension in Conservative ranks. At this moment in time, it doesn’t mean that much, but as Stephen Bush points out, if we do see the formation of a new party in the medium term, we’d be more likely to see it come as the result of Tory splits. This vote on the Grieve amendment, and the response to it could be the start of something deeper which leads the Tory’s down a problematic path.
3) The Death of the Pragmatic Right, and the Birth of Corbynite Triangulation
One of the main distinctions between the Left and Right has always been that the left has always been more ideological, and the right more pragmatic. This appears to have switched somewhat now. The quasi-religious fervour that the Brexit cause has lit in the Conservatives means that pragmatism has been abandoned ( see threats of de-selection above) whilst the Corbyn ( elected in no small part because of his ideological convictions and being seen as “ principled”) has started to adopt some Blairite tactics of spin and triangulation. The likes of Guido Fawkes like to portray it as labour not having a clue on Brexit, but it's deliberate to a point, and backing the Grieve amendment on ensuring a vote on the EU trade deal is a part of that strategy. it's a significant move which gives Labour a victory over the government, that can be used as a way to assuage the anti-Brexit crowd ( which includes most of its' members), without locking itself into a position that could alienate Leave voters ( such as backing continued Single Market Membership)
I’m not saying Corbyn is morphing into Blair, but he and his leadership team are displaying a lot more willing to play the game of politics rather than shout at the sidelines, and that can only serve them well in the short term as that pragmatism it will contrast to the hard-line that the Tories are taking.
As Brexit progresses, there;'s going to be more and more votes that the government will have to win, and if it's not careful,m all three of the above points could lead to more defeats.