The Brexit clocks have been reset, but time’s running out for the PM | Politics News

Extraordinary, shambolic chaos in the Commons as the planned Prime Ministerial free vote on ruling out no deal disintegrated before her eyes, taking ministers with it.

The PM ended up effectively voting for no deal, after her motion, only ruling it out for a month, was defeated and replaced with one ruling it out full stop.

Humiliatingly she also lost that vote against no deal by an even bigger margin.

One of the Labour MPs being wooed to vote for her deal a few months ago, Jess Phillips, called her a “disgrace” to her face in the voting lobby.

Her most senior Cabinet ministers were left utterly bewildered. The Chancellor had demanded the Commons take the “imminent threat” of no deal off the agenda in the conclusion to his Spring Statement speech.

He looked utterly bewildered when the first amendment was lost, realising that the government whip would then be effectively to back no deal.

A dozen ministers including four cabinet ministers, Amber Rudd, Greg Clark, David Gauke, and David Mundell and Cabinet attendee Claire Perry abstained, refusing to vote for no deal, but were told they could keep their jobs.

One junior minister Sarah Newton resigned in order to vote against a no-deal Brexit, despite having been told she could keep her job.

And yet after such a calamity the PM, incredibly, read out what seemed to be the statement that anticipated her winning the vote, referencing a March 2019 date stripped out of the motion.

The substance in the motion promised for the extension vote was highly significant – the government now effectively planning for a Brexit not this month but at the end of June, or if nothing is approved next week, even later than that.

Brexit delayed but also a clear signal of an attempt at a third Meaningful Vote next week, if the government can get it past the Speaker.

The British government has now abandoned the March 2019 Brexit due date. The only way it might still happen is if the EU aggressively enforced it against the UK government’s will, which is difficult to imagine. We can stop the countdown clocks. They have been reset.

But the timer on the PM’s tenure has accelerated. This was a visible humiliation, with MPs queuing up to express their utter rage at the breakdown of Cabinet collective responsibility.

One MP texted me all of Deputy Chief Whip Christopher Pincher’s confirmations that there were three line whips against the Spelman motion and the main motion, post-amendment.

And yet someone told ministers, probably a top prime ministerial adviser, that they could abstain. One former Cabinet minister telling the Chief whip: “If ministers who felt unable to support HMG on a Three Line Whip, are allowed to remain in place, you will have no way to persuade any colleagues to ever support future Three Line Whip.”

Except this defiance of governmental discipline followed Number 10 caving on the other side to a ministerial rebellion demanding a free vote on the so-called Malthouse plan.

Six Cabinet ministers, including Andrea Leadsom, Sajid Javid, Gavin Williamson and Jeremy Hunt burnishing Brexiter credentials ahead of a surely imminent Tory leadership contest, voted for that on the free vote.

In the end having promised a free vote on ending No Deal, the government ended up giving the free vote only on the motion that the PM had publicly described as non negotiable. On the one hand that idea was roundly defeated by nearly 200 votes.

On the other, half of Tory MPs backed an idea already dismissed by the EU for a pay as you go transition with no backstop.

The government is now cornered. The decline in the PM’s authority is now terminal. This is an administration in its death throes.

But Brexit too looks on life support. And there is still another full day of this unprecedented historic spectacle.

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