The question is whether Theresa May is prepared to break her party or break her country
Mandy Rhodes on the consequences of the biggest parliamentary defeat of all time
Image credit: David Anderson
You may have missed it, but there was a moment last week at Westminster when a consensus on a Brexit vote broke out.
The problem was, that rare sense of bonhomie was outside the House of Commons rather than inside its portals.
Yellow vested protestors on both sides of the Brexit argument gathered to hear what was to be an historic vote against the Government.
For a moment there was silence as the size of defeat sunk in. Then wow, the cheers were deafening, and an impromptu celebratory party of warring sides broke out just like Christmas in the trenches.
The prime minister had lost the critical vote on her Brexit deal by 230 making it the largest defeat in modern British political history, dwarfing Ramsay MacDonald’s defeat of 166 in 1924, and pushing what rightly became his resignation issue, easily into second place.
What is more, this was not defeat on some minor policy. This was a defeat on the Government’s raison d’etre – the major focus of all its efforts for the past two and a half years - and the issue with which May’s premiership has been inextricably linked.
The mood outside Westminster was jubilant. May’s Deal was dead and for a moment, when some believed she too would be gone, there was unity, even dancing.
In a television studio, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor and arch Remainer, Alastair Campbell, metaphorically jumped across the desk and shook the hand of the Brexiteer, Nigel Farage, as they now agreed on the prospect of a second referendum.
Inside the House of Commons however, there was no sign of such bon accord. Here was a prime minister so roundly bested even by her own side that she suffered the ignominy of making it into the parliamentary record books as having suffered the biggest parliamentary defeat of all time.
It felt at that moment that far from her usual mantra about the status quo, something really had changed. This was momentous. Families were transfixed by the chaos of government, gathered around television sets believing they were witnessing a political earthquake.
Could this be the end of the PM and Brexit?
But no chance. May was already back on her feet and immediately calling the shots. Jeremy Corbyn, she understood, must call for a vote of no confidence, in her, and in that moment of sheer bloody-minded audaciousness, she robbed the feeble leader of the opposition even that one chance to sound statesmanlike.
And by the following day, a day of wasted debate and weaselly word, the prime minister was on the front foot having won a vote of no confidence on the back of her billion-dollar friends in the DUP and calling for all political leaders to meet with her in the quest of finding compromise.
Corbyn refused, laying down just one essential red-line - a catastrophic no-deal must be taken off the table.
For this, despite everyone agreeing a no-deal would be a national disaster, he has been vilified for not dancing to the PM’s tune.
May has so refused to break any of her red-lines. It’s why we are where we are. The question now will be whether she is prepared to break her party or break her country. And the clock is ticking.
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