The deal Theresa May brought back to parliament was defeated back in January by 232 votes, the biggest defeat in our country’s history.
Last night rumours started swirling that the prime minister was going to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the form of a new concession. It was really difficult to gauge what MPs were thinking. At 10pm a government minister made a statement saying that there had been some progress but couldn’t say what it was. He said there would be a ‘meaningful vote’ today but couldn’t say what the wording was of the vote.
Just imagine this. I’d been at parliament since 7am, and at 10pm was told that the next day we’d be voting on the the single most important thing facing our country for generations, but he couldn’t say what we were actually voting on.
Seriously, this is no way to run a country.
As you know, I’m working with Phil Wilson MP on an amendment to break the deadlock in parliament and deliver an end to this madness via a binding confirmatory public ballot. We had to decide if we were going to table it today, but we didn’t even know what the motion was!
When I arrived early this morning we heard that the Attorney General was going to announce something. I spoke to dozens of MPs, we needed to decide whether to table our amendment. By 10.15am I was in the Commons tea room with Phil and we had to make a decision, we only had 15 minutes left before the cutoff for tabling an amendment.
MPs were confused and angry by the lack of information. We took the decision that it was not the right time to table. It was such a difficult decision because if the attorney general made a big announcement and won support and the vote was won, I would never have forgiven myself for not tabling the amendment. I would have let a lot of people down. So making these decisions is really difficult.
But then the statement was released and everything changed. There was nothing fundamentally new. The attorney general’s advice was damning considering that they had been working for two precious months.
By the time the prime minister appeared in the Commons the mood was bitter, worse than I had ever experienced. The prime minister’s voice was weak, her message was hollow, her authority drained. This was the single most important statement any prime minister has made for decades, yet the benches behind her were sparse and the few MPs there were looking at their phones or at the floor. It was the single most pitiful sight I have seen since I became an MP.
The debate that followed was angry. MPs were venting at a chaotic government. We were right not to table our amendment today because ours is a compromise and the House was in no mood to compromise today, it wanted to punish government for the way it is treating our country and parliament.
And it did. The deal was defeated for a second time, this time by a staggering 154 votes.
There was no cheering in the Commons. No gloating at a government defeat. The mood was sombre. The prime minister then announced that tomorrow there will be another vote, this time on if we can leave the EU with ‘no deal’. But she said that government will not whip their own MP’s. This is called a ‘free vote’. A free vote is when political parties allow MP’s to make a decision on conscience. On the biggest issue facing the country today, on whether the country leaves the EU, breaks all our trade deals, diplomatic ties, regulatory and security protections, trade and travel arrangements, and even jettisons the Good Friday Agreement – the government will not take a view as to whether their MP’s should vote one way or another.
This, to me, is totally appalling. The reason they’re doing it is because many of their MP’s want to leave in this way, despite the impact it will have on our economy and the citizens of Northern Ireland. So don’t ever forget this, they have put the interests of their parliamentary party ahead of our country.
So in the coming days Phil and I will look for a good opportunity to table our amendment. It might not be this week but it will be soon.
We now have a terminally weakened prime minister. We have a government that is lacking in direction and without a credible strategy. She should really resign but if she cannot because we cannot go without a prime minister while the Tories elect a new one. And even then the new PM would have no authority. She has painted herself and our country into a corner and none of us seen able to escape.
That is why we need to compromise. She must change course. I’ll keep speaking to MP’s, ministers, cabinet ministers, and of course front bench colleagues in my own party who have been really supportive of our amendment. I won’t give up!
Today I spoke in the Commons twice, against the attorney general and later to the prime minister. I’m trying by absolute best to give our community voice in these incredibly challenging times. I know you expect me to get stuck in and never sit on the sidelines when the biggest challenges are facing our country. I’m trying my best!