ANALYSIS: Ignore the spin, the Grieve amendment will not save Theresa May's Brexit deal

Posted On: 
5th December 2018

For those of us in the 'hot take' business, this one seemed particularly fiery. 

Dominic Grieve inflicted a humiliating defeat on Theresa May.
Credit: 
PA Images

Rupert Harrison, a former special adviser to George Osborne and someone highly-respected throughout Westminster, took to Twitter after the Government had just suffered three Commons defeats in little over an hour and made the following observation: "Today has been a good day for Theresa May."

On the surface, this seemed like a rather eccentric point of view. After all, Gordon Brown never suffered three defeats in the whole time he was Prime Minister. How could Theresa May suffering such ignominy in the space of 63 minutes be anything other than a disaster for her premiership.

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His logic, however, was pretty sound. The last - and heaviest - of those defeats was on the so-called "Grieve amendment", which will effectively hand control of the Brexit process to Parliament if, as everyone expects, MPs vote down May's deal on 11 December. The argument put forward by Harrison and others is that, faced with the prospect of Parliament being able to stop Brexit in its tracks, euroseceptic Tories will rally behind the PM and help her to pull off an unlikely triumph.

Indeed, one Cabinet minister told PoliticsHome: "Brexiteers need to wake up and smell the coffee. If they vote down the PM’s deal, there's a real chance now of no Brexit."

Officially, Team May are distancing themselves from this strategy, with a spokesman rejecting suggestions that they were secretly pleased at the result: "The Government whipped against that amendment and I don’t think there is an administration you can point to that enjoys losing votes."

But if that is what Downing Street are really pinning their hopes on, I would say they are going to be very disappointed. From a straw poll of Brexiteers, it's pretty clear that their loathing of May's deal is so entrenched that there is no chance of them backing it as some sort of least-bad option.

"It is the EU that has presented us with unacceptable terms," said one former minister. "So why would someone who wants Brexit surrender to the organisation they want to leave?"

Another Brexiteer said Harrison's theory was "peculiar bollocks" which "makes less than no sense".

With 6 days to go until the Prime Minister's date with destiny, it looks as though Downing Street is going to have to come up with an alternative strategy for winning over the Brexiteers. Sadly for Theresa May, it's not obvious at all what that could possibly be.