‘Get the deal out the way’ – Dominic Grieve calls for the PM to stop delaying the inevitable

Posted On: 
17th December 2018

The former attorney general says it is "unsatisfactory" for the Government to have pushed back the meaningful vote into the new year.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve in Whitehall
Credit: 
PA Images

“My view remains that the sooner we get the deal out of the way, the better,” Dominic Grieve told The House as part of a feature on the past fortnight in British politics. “It’s only once that’s happened that you’re going to start to clear the logjam and people will start really focussing on alternatives.”

A steady number of Conservative MPs have voiced their displeasure at the decision to push back the meaningful vote. Remainers such as Sam Gyimah and Grieve have accused No10 of misguidedly running down the clock by delaying the likely parliamentary defeat that will greet Theresa May’s Brexit deal when it touches the Commons air. Cabinet ministers, too, have called for a series of indicative votes to sound out the mood of MPs in that eventuality – but No10 so far has refused to budge.

“I’m regretful if the Government decides it’s trying to avoid having this until the new year. It’s unsatisfactory,” said Grieve. However, he is doubtful that Parliament could bounce ministers into holding the vote before the Christmas recess. “I’m not sure that Parliament is in a good position to force the Government to do it earlier.”

Earlier this month, MPs backed Grieve's amendment by 321 to 229 to grant the Commons a say in what happens next if the PM’s deal is defeated. Under the terms of the EU Withdrawal Act, the Government would have 21 days to come back to the Commons and make a statement setting out how ministers propose to proceed in the event of a defeat. That motion will now have to be amendable and will thus grant MPs an opportunity to put their own proposals to a vote in the Commons.

The amendment “remains significant” even though the Government decided to push back the 11 December vote into the new year, Grieve said. “Sometimes people exaggerate its importance, oddly enough. To my mind, it’s the perfectly logical way for Parliament to express its opinion.”

The amendment itself does not prohibit a no deal Brexit. The only means through which MPs could prevent the UK exiting the EU on WTO terms, according to Grieve, is if the Government “responds positively” to a parliamentary resolution, or “parliament is going to have to take action to enforce the Government or a government to do what it wants”. “That’s constitutionally more complicated, obviously,” he added.

Theresa May pushed back the vote in recognition of the mood of the Commons. Liam Fox said yesterday the deal was unlikely to pass through Parliament unless the vexed issue of the backstop was overcome to the satisfaction of MPs. And given the obdurateness on display at the EU summit in Brussels last week, it seems unlikely at this juncture that the PM can secure anything tangible to win over the waverers.   

Some Cabinet ministers have been bullish in seeking to transfer responsibility for overcoming the impasse to Parliament. Business Secretary Greg Clark told the Today programme: “One way or another, parliament has got to move from essentially being critics of the agreement… It is obviously easy to find things you don’t like. But I think every MP now needs to regard themselves as responsible participants.” For her part, the Prime Minister will today warn a second referendum would “break faith with the British people”.

But for people like Grieve, himself a proponent of another public vote, Parliament has long presented a route out of the Brexit quagmire. “In my view, the Government has been mistaken in not trying to extend a more conciliatory role towards Parliament because that’s the only way in which they’re going to find a way out of this crisis. But, of course, it may be a way out of a crisis that they themselves would have preferred not to have.”

He concluded: “The problem is inherent in Brexit – it’s not in the leadership that we’re getting for the country. It could be led by the Archangel Gabriel, frankly. We wouldn’t be doing better.”

The House magazine feature, ‘12 days of Mayhem’, will be out later this week.