The Houses of Parliament are full of contradictions - as amendment votes could show
PUBLISHED: 22:04 29 January 2019 | UPDATED: 22:26 29 January 2019
The Houses of Parliament are full of contradictions.
Whether it is the sleek glass walls running parallel to the historic stonework, or seeing a doorkeeper – a job which dates back to the 1300s and whose holders still wear formal dress – scrolling on an iPhone.
But one more was added last night, as MPs voted to both rule out a no-deal Brexit and to send Theresa May back to Brussels to negotiate further, potentially pushing the country even closer to a no-deal scenario.
The EU already told Mrs May it was not interested in reopening negotiations.
But the contradictory votes on Tuesday night show how split the Commons truly is.
Maybe the EU will budge.
Sir Henry Bellingham, Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, said: “My prediction is that there will be some last minute changes to the backstop which will enable her to get her agreement over the line.”
Liz Truss, Conservative MP for South West Norfolk, urged the EU to show “flexibility”.
Others, such as Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable – who is visiting Norfolk this week to discuss Brexit - said MPs seem to have set the country onto opposing tracks, on course for a crash.
He said a no deal - which was rejected - is made more likely by pushing back against the EU on the backstop, something they have been reluctant to bow on.
Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, said: “It’s one thing for backbenchers to lay an amendment at odds with the prime minister’s deal. It’s quite another for the prime minister to support it – unless of course she’d already got an indication from the EU that they could and would negotiate the necessary changes. But she hasn’t.”
MPs and staffers alike pointed to how the House of Commons is equally as split as the country – no longer are these battles being fought along party lines. That much was clear.
“It comes in peaks and troughs,” one staffer said. But it felt much more like a constant trough for those hustling along the hallways, trying in vain to think up a plan members can agree on.
Earlier in the day Charles Walker, Conservative MP for Broxbourne, told the house his speech on the EU was more of a three-minute cry than anything else.
And MPs cried out as Brexit secretary and North East Cambridgeshire MP Stephen Barclay told MPs he had five minutes remaining in his speech.
Mr Walker said his constituents, leave or remain, just wanted the country to “get on” with it.
But ‘it’ was not easy to pin down, even after hours of debate, which at times became frostier than the snow which began to fall outside.
Time and time again Mr Barclay refused to answer Labour questions on what alternatives were on the table if Mrs May was to go back to the EU.
So again the government, the Commons and Mrs May herself are frozen, unable to do right for wrong, even when votes are taken which seem to give an idea of where MPs want to go.
Earlier in the day Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, made his own plea to break the impasse, and said he would like to see a citizenss assembly to debate the way forward. But time is running out.
Mr Lamb said: “There is a very real risk of leaving with no deal.”
He added: “This is a reckless strategy which is being pursued by the government. My plea to [Theresa May] and the people in government is engage in a conversation, a proper conversation, across politics but also with the people of this country and try and find a way of uniting leavers and remainers because we are a horribly divided country and at some point we need to bring people together again.”
But unity was not the order of the day in the Commons.
On Tuesday afternoon Keith Simpson, Conservative MP for Broadland, said he imagined the prime minister would go back to the EU whatever happened.
He said a no deal would be “disastrous”.
So while the prime minister may have a mandate from MPs, albeit a potentially contradictory one, the EU’s next move remains to be seen.