This time a week ago, Theresa May and her whips were trying to avert a looming Commons defeat on Brexit. As if the lengthy farce of the government trying to negotiate its way out of the European Union wasn’t surreal enough, the Prime Minister now seems trapped in one of those repetitive Hades-style punishments in which she is forced to go through the same miserable exercise over and over again. Except this time, after peers sent back the issue of a meaningful vote to the Commons again, it’s going to be even harder.
The Upper Chamber backed Viscount Hailsham’s amendment which roughly reflects what Dominic Grieve had been calling for by a significant majority of 119. The Tories may feel some comfort in that their majority in the Lords had increased just a little, but that is cold comfort at most: May now has to convince the very rebels she beckoned into her Commons office last Tuesday that this time she really will keep her word to them, even though they feel she broke it a week ago.
And all the signs from those rebels who stood down last week are that they’re not in quite such an amenable mood this week. Those who aren’t personally angry with May for failing to deliver on the personal assurances she gave them last Tuesday are instead furious with David Davis for insisting on changing the government amendment at the last minute before it was published. And most significantly, Dominic Grieve is using very bullish language, saying he lies awake at night worrying about the government falling because of Brexit. The question is whether those worries are big enough for the Remainers to blink first – or the government.