Wednesday, June 13News That Matters

Could Brexit concession intensify Tory warfare?


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Phew! Thank god, the government sighed collectively.

Another day when last-minute haggling avoided the red faces of getting beaten by MPs and avoided what ministers believe would be an impossible restriction on their ability to negotiate a Brexit deal – a condition the House of Lords wants to set where Parliament would be able to direct Number 10 if the final Brexit deal is sunk.

Hang on. The defeat was only stopped in its tracks because more than a dozen Tory rebels got what they believe is a real promise from the prime minister that the draft law will be changed.

Three of them have told me that Theresa May said it is a “matter of trust”.

But was that a real promise? Pity the government minister who had, in public, to broker the deal during hours at the despatch box, the Solicitor General Robert Buckland.

When I asked him tonight what had really been agreed, he was crystal clear that there has been no assurance or guarantee that the government will actually make a change to its plans, just a commitment to “further discussions” to try to find a way forward that may well result in a tweak – such as a new amendment.

Politics is often about the big picture, but sometimes it is a festival for pedants.

Believe me, in Westminster, there is a very very big difference between the promise of more serious chat about something with the possibility of a change, and a promise actually to do something different, especially if it is made by the occupant of Number 10.

So just hours after the concession, (or non-concession) very very dark mutterings began from those who had been persuaded by what they thought was a promise.

Some can’t be repeated on air or in this blog, suffice to say one of them told me the PM should not mess with them. Another at the meeting was furious, saying “the problem is she is weak and stubborn, it’s the worst combination”.

On the other side, the Brexiteers believe they have had their own assurances that nothing has actually been promised and the Remainers are trying to save face. The government has until Thursday to come up with whatever the product of the “further conversations” will be.

But the prime minister has been able to get this far by giving assurances, in turn, to all sides in the Tory party. The risk is that appears as double dealing.

One senior Brexiteer says people are starting to see that the prime minister “talks from two different sides of her mouth”.

Instead of peace and harmony after the government avoided a defeat tonight there is ill will and mistrust. The immediate disaster of defeat was avoided but the action taken to stop it happening may have made the situation even worse.

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