By Michael Deacon
Daily Telegraph – 16 January 2019
Well, what a waste of time that was. Five long, weary days of debate that absolutely everyone – including, surely, Theresa May herself – knew from the start would end in crushing defeat. In fact, they didn’t just know it five days ago; they knew it five weeks ago, when, for no good reason, the Prime Minister decided to delay it. It shouldn’t be possible for an event to be both historic and anticlimactic. But somehow Mrs May has defied the odds.
The fatuity of her five-week postponement was reflected in the standard of today’s debate, which was a somnolent retread of the exact same arguments to which we’ve been subjected ad nauseam for the past two and a half years (in short: "We must respect the result from 2016" versus "But it’ll go very badly"). At least Tory Brexiteer Julian Lewis (New Forest East) had the decency to keep his speech brief: he rejected Mrs May’s deal in just 21 words. If everyone had followed his excellent example, we’d have been home and hosed in time for Countdown.
Even Geoffrey Cox, the booming ham of an Attorney General, struggled to dispel the torpor. Essentially his message was: no, the deal on offer wasn’t perfect, but it was the best we were going to get – and voting against it would unleash chaos. If you feel as if you’ve heard that one before: it was precisely the same case that David Cameron made for voting Remain.
The debate was wrapped up by Mrs May herself. Her speech had all the brio of a mouldy gym sock.
“No alternative deal exists,”
she scowled. She sounded as winningly persuasive as a mother snapping at her children to eat up their cabbage or go to bed hungry.
At last the time came to vote. A heavily pregnant Tulip Siddiq – the Labour MP who’d postponed her caesarean in order to participate – was seen being guided towards the lobbies in a wheelchair by Chuka Umunna (Lab, Streatham). Back in the chamber MPs chatted amiably. There was no tension or sense of drama. No one expected any twists or shocks. It was as if Agatha Christie has allowed Miss Marple to solve the murder half way through and spend the rest of the novel pottering about in the garden.
The eventual result, 432 votes to 202, was the biggest defeat for a government in a century. The cries of "Resign!" began immediately, and only grew louder while Mrs May tried to speak. The result, she complained – sounding a little petulant – "doesn’t tell us what the House does support". Still, she would announce the Government’s next move by Monday – unless, in the meantime, the Government had been toppled. Jeremy Corbyn accepted this challenge with snarling alacrity. A vote of no confidence will go ahead tomorrow.
Historic votes, it seems, are a bit like buses. You wait ages for one, and then two come along at once.
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'PLEAS, THREATS AND WARNINGS FALL ON DEAF EARS IN HOUSE' [EXTRACTS]
By Steven Swinford
... The Prime Minister picked Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, to open the final day of debate. Far from trying to win round Eurosceptic Tory MPs, he rose to challenge them head-on. He said that the public will demand of MPs:
"What are you playing at? What are you doing? You are not children in the playground, you are legislators."
Mr Cox added:
"We are playing with people's lives."
He indicated that in the event of defeat, the Prime Minister will return a similar deal to the Commons. He said:
"Whatever solution may be fashioned, if this motion were defeated and this deal defeated, this Withdrawal Agreement will have to return, in much the same form, with much the same content."
Eurosceptic Tory MPs appeared to be unmoved. Julian Lewis, Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, made the briefest intervention at just 21 words as he invoked Margaret Thatcher:
"Because Brexit should mean Brexit and no deal is better than this bad deal, I shall vote no, no, and no",
he said. Sir Bill Cash, a senior Eurosceptic MP, said the Prime Minister should resign if her deal is voted down. He said Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister in May 1940 despite winning a vote because he had lost the confidence of Parliament. ...
* * *
'MEMBERS CRANED THEIR NECKS TO SEE THE WOMAN ON THE SCAFFOLD' [EXTRACTS]
By Quentin Letts
... On a long day when so many inadequates rambled through cliches, Julian Lewis (Conservative, New Forest East) excelled. His speech was just one sentence:
"Because Brexit should mean Brexit and no deal is better than this bad deal, I shall vote no, no, and no."
Mr Lewis was echoing Margaret Thatcher. Members and Gallery spectators alike were grateful to him for his brevity. ...