Brexit was about taking back control… the government has lost it | Politics News

Brexit was all about taking back control.

One thing is for certain: tonight, the government lost it.

In the British system, to govern is to control the House of Commons order paper.

With the Letwin amendment passing, by a healthy majority of 27, for one day only (and potentially for more besides) it will not do so.

Its grip on governing became looser.

It is very unusual for the House of Commons to seize control of its business in this way, especially on the central issue of the day.

The government is now a bystander; it can only watch as MPs act as an executive, determining what they vote on and how.

It might at last yield a majority for something where previously there has been none for anything.

House of Commons
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The Letwin amendment passed by a majority of 27

The night also sports casualties.

Richard Harrington, Alastair Burt and Steve Brine have resigned to vote for the amendment.

All the more extraordinary when you consider Burt was at the prime minister’s side at the Chequers meeting only yesterday.

You could argue that it isn’t clear how meaningful it is.

Constitutionally, the government has talked up the enormity of the change in an attempt to dissuade their MPs from voting for it.



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It is an unusual move but the government doesn’t always control the Commons’ order paper; there are opposition day debates, backbench business days and days for private members’ bills.

The next time there is a government with a majority this change will not apply because a government could whip to prevent it.

And politically it’s not entirely clear how significant this will be either.

The prime minister made it clear in her statement today that she will not feel bound by the indicative votes which are debated on Wednesday.

Indeed it is not clear even if they will produce a majority for anything.

If they don’t it may even help the PM; then she will be able to argue with far greater credibility that the House of Commons cannot decide anything; her deal will exert a greater gravitational pull.

But if something is passed; a customs union, membership of the single market, that too will create gravity of their own.

The government will have to justify why it does not and cannot put the Commons’ will into effect.

Its most powerful argument, that the Commons cannot decide, will be nullified.

And this control might not remain toothless in the longer term: A motion will also now be put which compels the government, by law, to do what they decide. At that point the PM’s authority would be completely exhausted.

She would become an employee of the House of Commons, to do as they please.

Much rests on Wednesday and the persuasion, negotiation and discussion of the different options before then. MPs will set out their stalls.

Much too on the type of voting system MPs will use.

And perhaps the mechanics matter little; sometimes symbolism is enough.

Theresa May heads back to Downing Street the premier of a government denuded.

So often it has seemed at the mercy of events; tonight was a confirmation of its status, a government in office but not in power.

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