The main takeaway from the confusion surrounding today’s meaningful vote amendment is that no-one knows what it means. Although the government technically successfully defeated the Lords amendment calling for a meaningful vote on the final deal, confusion reigns over who is the winner: the Remainers or the Brexiteers.
The would-be Tory Remain rebels are convinced that they were assured by the Prime Minister herslef that by voting with the government they would be awarded with a concession that would give them some form of binding vote on the next steps were Parliament to reject the government’s Brexit deal.
They believe that this involves the first two parts of Dominic Grieve’s amendment being enacted: (a) in the event of parliament rejecting the final Brexit deal, ministers would have seven days to set out a fresh approach (b) in the case of talks with the EU breaking down, they would have until 30 November to try to strike a new deal.
However, as soon as the Tory Remain rebels started to cry victory, the Brexiteers began to question what the government had just given up. They were quickly assured by senior government figures that little more than further discussions had been promised. Both sides are convinced that they have come out victorious – but only one side can be correct.
In a bid to clarify the situation, the Department for Exiting the European Union has issued a statement:
‘On the meaningful vote we have agreed to look for a compromise when this goes back to the Lords.
The Brexit Secretary has set out three tests that any new amendment has to meet – not undermining the negotiations, not changing the constitutional role of Parliament and Government in negotiating international treaties, and respecting the referendum result.
We have not, and will not, agree to the House of Commons binding the Government’s hands in the negotiations.’
However, this is as clear as mud. It’s not at all clear how the two aims can be met. The government have promised not to bind Theresa May’s hands in the negotiations while also agreeing to find a compromise on the meaningful vote.
Worse still, the confusion means that one side will soon feel humiliated and angry. In the bars of Parliament tonight, no-one seems sure what is going on. As one Conservative MP said to me, ‘all you can say is that we’ve got through today’. In the current climate, perhaps that is enough. But given the conviction of both Tory Remain-ers and Tory Brexiteers that the government has sided with them, it’s hard to see how this can end well when the new amendment is revealed on Monday when the bill returns to the Lords.