Put June 12th in your diary, for that’s when the EU withdrawal bill will return to the House of Commons. Julian Smith, the chief whip, has written to Tory MPs telling them, ‘There will be a number of divisions that day’ as the government attempts to overturn the Lords’ amendments to the bill.
Smith’s letter includes a pointed reference to the Tory manifesto, which included a commitment to leave the customs union. This is designed to remind potential Tory rebels that they’d be breaking with the manifesto on which they were elected if they vote for the customs union amendment.
But it’ll take more than this to get the government through these votes. One Cabinet minister tells me that it is ‘going to get messy’. This secretary of state predicts the government will ‘lose a couple. It will be painful but not critical’.
I sense that the vote the Cabinet care about most is the Lords meaningful vote amendment which would effectively allow the Commons to order the government back to the negotiating table. If that amendment passes, it would further weaken the government’s position in the Brexit talks.