Faced with the prospect of overwhelming defeat, Theresa May has once again decided to kick the Brexit can down the road and delay the meaningful vote on her Brexit deal. Standing before the House of Commons, the Prime Minister told MPs that ‘it is clear that while there is broad support for many of the key aspects of the deal, on one issue – the Northern Ireland backstop – there remains widespread and deep concern.’ which is why she is shelving the vote.
All of which rather confused Mr Steerpike. After all, nothing had really changed in the past week, and Mr S was sure he had heard multiple times that there was absolutely no possibility that this vote would be cancelled.
So, to refresh his memory and yours, let’s hear what Theresa May and her ministers had to say about delaying the vote in the week running up till today:
Moments after suffering an unprecedented three defeats in a row in the House of Commons, the first rumours began to swirl that May’s big vote scheduled for Tuesday would be cancelled.
Fortunately, Number 10 was on hand to dispel any rumours. Asked if Theresa May was going to go back to the EU to negotiate, a Number 10 spokesman said:
‘The Prime Minister spoke in the House on Tuesday about the fact that the Withdrawal Agreement had been agreed and pointed out the dangers of reopening it. The Prime Minister has said re-opening the Withdrawal Agreement could lead to a worse outcome.’
The government next had the opportunity to clarify whether this was still the case the day after.
When asked by the DUP’s Ian Paisley about reports that ministers were considering delaying the vote, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox replied that that the Brexit deal offered a ‘balanced and reasonable approach’ and added: ‘Of course [the government] will want to look for ways to give reassurance.’
As you would expect, as the number of Tory rebels voting against the deal began to grow, many still suspected that the vote could be cancelled to save face.
Dismissing these reports, health secretary Matt Hancock said No 10 was ‘very clear that the Commons vote will not be postponed.’
Similarly, a Number 10 source told the Independent that ‘The plan is still to deliver the vote on Tuesday.’
With only two days away from the big Brexit vote, yesterday would have been the perfect opportunity for the government to let people know they were changing their plans.
Helpfully, they even had the new Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, scheduled to speak on television on Sunday morning. But, he instead confirmed that nothing had changed:
‘The vote is going ahead because it’s a good deal and it’s the only deal,’ he told Marr.
Stephen Barclay tells #marr “it’s the best deal on the table”
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) December 9, 2018
Which left until today for someone to admit that the vote was not going ahead. Or maybe not.
The environment secretary Michael Gove was on the Today programme at half past eight this morning and was asked by Mishal Husain:
‘Is the vote, definitely, one hundred per cent going to happen?’
To which Gove replied ‘yes’, and continued to confirm ‘The vote is going ahead’.
Less than seven hours later, Theresa May stood up in the Commons to confirm that the vote would be cancelled.
Which leaves Mr Steerpike with only one burning question: did they know that the vote would be shelved all last week? In the government’s defence, it could just be that they have no clue what’s going on either.