The Weakness of Remain

This evening it is highly probable (though not certain) that the Conservative Government will see through the final reading of its Article 50 Bill with no amendments.

The arguments against amendment are cogent from a negotiating point of view. Attempts to drive them through have been 'political' by many and various parties, all aiming to gain advantage from the short term discomfiture of the Government to get a soft Brexit or even a future reversal of policy. It is probable that the Labour Lords will accept that they have done their constitutional duty. The Bill with or without changes will pass.

So who are the players dancing around the Invocation? The word pictures a scene out of a Dennis Wheatley novel. Some Tory Remain backbenchers have had to strut a little in order to show their Remain constituents that they feel their pain (especially if they have a hopeful Liberal Democrat challenger in the wings) but their primary interest is still in maintaining their Government and their influence on Government during the negotiation, especially in regard to EU citizens rights and the single market. They are unlikely to give up that influence to engage in open revolt.

The Liberal Democrats are of little consequence in the Commons but Remain has given them new opportunities. Young voters are moving on from anger at the Party's blunder over tuition fees in 2010. It was able to use its thoroughly undemocratic position in the House of Lords to ally with pre-Corbyn Labour Lords in a manoeuvre that was just as much about embarrassing Labour into a pro-EU position as it was protecting the rights of EU citizens or promoting Parliamentary sovereignty. The Party has managed to reinvent itself as the natural competitor to Labour with Blairite connivance.

The petty nationalists, recently victorious Sinn Fein and an SNP that may already have 'peaked', were able to use Remain to re-open recently closed debates about national self-determination. Sturgeon announced an intention to seek a Second Referendum on Scottish Independence on the morning of the Debate in a bid to re-establish some dynamism to a Party that was in danger of coasting and even faltering with nothing to fight for. The media loved her intervention but the Government appeared relaxed, knowing that half, perhaps most Scots, were still unenthused about the prospect.

As for the Europeans, with positions that appear to be posturing from the lowest common denominator of demands for financial recompense, with forlorn hopes that the British position will be reversed by a coalescence of all these forces and preoccupied with seeing off a bad bout of national populism before the next wave of migrants appears, there really was not much they could do. It will be clear that May is fully prepared politically (if not administratively) for the nuclear WTO option and that the UK might just have lined up some trade deals that make it worthwhile by then.

You may be seduced into thinking that all these forces could combine to overthrow the new ruling order. A Tory Remain revolt might have triggered a Brexit Election that might have given a Remain majority (in theory). But closer analysis shows that each is fighting their own partisan battle from weakness - none more so than a divided Labour. Unless a Tory Remain revolt takes place tonight (and we suppose it might yet), a Tory Government win would leave every one of its opponents weak, divided, self-centred and troubled. We have not just a divided country but a divided losing half.