If, as seems inevitable, the Commons votes to reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal later today – thereby sparing Britain from the humiliation of being trapped in the backstop, forced to accept EU rules without having a say in them – the hero of the hour will be Dominic Grieve. Him and Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Kenneth Clarke, Sarah Woolaston and a gaggle of other Remain MPs. Why? Because it was only thanks to them that the Commons is getting its meaningful vote on the Brexit deal. It was they who rebelled against the government in December 2017 to make sure that such a vote would be held. Remarkably, not a single Brexiteer joined them in the rebellion – not Jacob Rees-Mogg, not Boris Johnson, then still Foreign Secretary, and certainly not David Davis, the then Brexit secretary who was in charge of the government’s efforts to thwart Grieve and his rebels. All of them, apparently, were at that stage perfectly happy for May to take Britain out of the EU on whatever terms she had managed to negotiate.
At that time, the campaign for a meaningful vote was widely seen as a mechanism for trying to thwart Brexit. Brexiteers could not foresee that May would come back from Brussels with such a bad deal – one which in the minds of many Brexiteers would be even worse than remaining in the EU. They failed to envisage a ‘worst of all worlds’ which would trap us in purgatory for ever after. Rather, they took the view that entrusting the final deal to Parliament could lead to Remain MPs seeking to thwart the will of the people by cancelling Brexit altogether.
There is a lot of truth in one of the arguments some Remainers put forward at the time: how ironic that the referendum was fought on the pretext of repatriating Parliamentary sovereignty from Brussels, when many of those who had taken this line seemed desperate to prevent the Commons having final approval for the deal.
Whatever Brexiteer MPs think of Dominic Grieve’s views on Brexit, they should acknowledge their debt to him as a champion of the sovereignty of Parliament. He was right, as was Gina Miller in her campaign to make sure that the enactment of Article 50 had the approval of Parliament, that the Commons should approve the Brexit process – even if the people had already spoken in a referendum. As we are about to be reminded, it is Parliament that is sovereign – not Theresa May.