We need to know what was conceded to pass Brexit votes

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The government has got through the latest stage of the Brexit process.

A number of votes in the House of Commons over-turned a number of measures that had passed in the House of Lords.

All of those measures had been aimed at minimising the scale of Brexit, or perhaps making Brexit in effect impossible. The aggressive nature of the Lords’ manoeuvring on Brexit goes back to last year’s general election disaster for Theresa May.

Her failure to get an overall majority greatly emboldened those forces who want to stop the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, inside Parliament and outside it — including the EU itself and the Irish government, all of whom can see how weakened and split the British government is.

The fact that the government has passed this latest hurdle, aimed for example at keeping the UK in the customs union, should be welcomed even by people who are only cautiously in favour of Brexit. If the UK stays in the customs union it is the worst of all worlds, effectively tying us into the single market, and so meaning that Britain has no say in the EU but is bound by all its regulations and by its trade and tariff policies.

It is not clear, however, what the government conceded to win last night’s vote. One of the pro EU Tories who was persuaded to back the prime minister said that 15 or 20 such backbenchers had bene potential rebels.

That is an alarming figure because it suggests the government would have lost even those of the votes that it won last night by a relatively handsome margin (in a hung parliament) of a 25+ majority. If 20 MPs change sides in such a finely balanced vote, then it goes from a 25 majority to a 15 vote loss.

The question of what was conceded is now of paramount importance. In today’s newspaper, the respected economist Andrew Lilico seems to fear that the government has already been pursuing a goal of ‘Brexit in Name Only’.

Theresa May avoided collapse last night but it might yet only be a stay of execution.