The European Research Group has decided it will abstain on the government’s Brexit motion, which MPs will be voting on in the next hour. An ERG source said that there was a ‘collective decision’ at a meeting this afternoon to abstain on the motion if no other amendments to it were passed. Voting has begun, but Anna Soubry has suggested that she won’t be pushing her motion calling for the government’s no-deal assessments to be published, after ministers said they would do so. This means that there will definitely be a vote on the main motion, and with the ERG abstaining, the government looks as though it is heading for a defeat.
There was a split in this afternoon’s meeting between a majority of MPs who wanted to abstain, and those who wanted to vote against the motion. They were not opposed to the substance of Soubry’s amendment, given many of them think there is too much scaremongering over no deal. It would also have had the effect of deleting the government’s motion, thereby removing the bit that Brexiteers are most agitated about.
ERG figures such as Steve Baker have been arguing today that their stance does not, as others claim, weaken Theresa May’s hand in Brussels. They say that taking no deal off the table is the problem, rather than the message that tonight’s result will send. But May will certainly need to explain what tonight’s vote really means as she tries to persuade European leaders that she does still have a mandate from Parliament to get a deal. If she is unable to do so, this could make it even more difficult for the ERG to get what it wants in the long run.