The British government suffered a further political defeat on Monday night, as MPs voted to wrest control of the Brexit timetable from the government on Wednesday, to hold a series of indicative votes to attempt to determine what course of action could command a majority in Parliament.
The MPs voted by 329 to 302 in favour of an amendment to a motion – introduced by Conservative MP Oliver Letwin – to enable the series of unspecified votes to take place on Wednesday, despite the government’s assurance that it would be willing to hold such votes.
The defeat highlights the extent to which power has slipped from the government, and the lack of trust with which their assurances and pledges for future steps are treated by parliamentarians. The government has insisted it cannot commit to respecting the results of the indicative vote without knowing what these are going to be.
The government also narrowly avoided defeat by 314 to 311 – on an amendment moved by Labour MP Margaret Beckett that would have required the Parliament to be recalled to consider voting on a no-deal Brexit.
Three ministers resigned from the government in order to be able to vote for the Letwin amendment, highlighting the divisions within the government. As many as 30 Conservative MPs voted against the amendment, despite the government explicitly opposing it.
Prime Minister Theresa May had earlier in the day insisted that indicative votes merely “produced contradictory outcomes or no outcome at all,” and that there was a risk that the votes could lead to an outcome that was “unnegotiable with the EU.”
Ms. May was forced to acknowledge that her withdrawal deal still struggled to command the necessary support to get it through the House of Commons. If no deal is agreed this week then MPs will have time till April 12 to come up with alternative routes forward. If it were accepted then the UK will leave the EU on May 22.
Mr. Letwin, setting out his amendment, told the House that a compromise would be needed if MPs were to be able to find a road ahead. “We need not just a majority for something but a majority for something that will continue to persist as the various stages have to be carried through. That must be our aim.”
While Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn hailed the Parliament for “taking control” and called on the government to take the process seriously, the government warned that the vote upended “the balance between our democratic institutions and sets a dangerous, unpredictable precedent for the future.”