Brexit is stretching party loyalties to breaking point with voting tactics increasingly important.
We are all learning the truth of the saying that a week is a long time in politics. And we should probably steel ourselves for a few more long weeks.
Who would have thought on Monday that MPs would come within a whisker of seizing control of the Brexit process from the Theresa May’s Government? And yet Hilary Benn’s extraordinary, historic, attempt to do just that fell short by just two votes yesterday.
This week also saw May’s Brexit deal decisively defeated for a second time – and yet still it is not dead – and Cabinet ministers voting against or not supporting their own Government’s position. The Government even ended up voting against its own (amended) motion – and losing.
That vote, on Wednesday evening, which expressed the non-legally binding view that the UK should never leave the EU without a deal, saw Scottish Secretary David Mundell abstain.
Yesterday he faced calls to resign from both sides of the debate. Hardline Brexiteers fumed he had failed to back his own Government, while others condemned him for potentially allowing a no-deal Brexit. Mundell was sitting tight.
His dilemma – he opposes a no-deal but didn’t want to vote against May, who also doesn’t want a no-deal, but thought it should remain an option – is perhaps indicative of the tough decisions MPs are having to make. Party loyalties are being stretched to breaking point, voting tactics are getting decidedly tricky.
An amendment calling for a second referendum was defeated yesterday but a number of MPs who back the idea decided not vote for it, saying another amendment had a better chance of winning and that it would be voted on “within a matter of days”.
So next week may well be even more dramatic than this one. Will May’s deal pass as hardline Brexiteers drop their opposition, realising it’s the best deal they can get? Will the Commons decide to back a second referendum? And, of course, we are still to find out whether the EU will agree to extend Article 50 in accordance with MPs’ wishes. And, even if they do, the UK still needs to change the law to prevent a no-deal Brexit on 29 March.
Who knows where we will all be in a week’s time? And who knows what the people of Britain actually want to happen? The Scotsman certainly doesn’t. And there is only one way to find out – a second referendum.