Is government in control of EU policy?
“The government has lost control of European policy,” two leading Eurosceptic Tory MPs, in perfect harmony, said to me after the vote. It’s hard not to agree. There are many more Tory Euro rebels in the undergrowth than actually rebelled tonight. It’ll be interesting to see the abstention list.
David Cameron believes a cut in the EU budget is an impossibility in the Brussels talks. But 53 actual Tory rebels – I reckon more than that lurking for the next vote – are signalling that they won’t vote for anything less. David Cameron now has a massive vested interest in collapsing the talks if he doesn’t get his way.
Tory Euro-sceptics say they’ve triumphed because of clever tactics, whipping properly and staying below the radar for a while. The government says it won’t budge from its negotiating stance in Brussels but rebels are daring it to do just that.
David Cameron said in PMQs that voters would see right through Labour’s opportunism in joining the Eurosceptic Tory rebels. Labour feels the lesson of John Smith’s similar rebellion/ambushes over Maastricht was that the voters won’t give a fig.
Conservative MPs aren’t the people they used to be, in many cases, and they don’t see Parliament the way they used to. Some see Commons votes a bit like texting – a quick way of communicating messages to their (often marginal) constituencies. A surprising number lack even residual respect for their leadership. The Chairman of the 22 Committee, Graham Brady, was amongst the abstentions by the way – a pretty big message on a three line whip.
If you’re wondering, as I was, if a future post-negotiation binding vote on a budget deal brought back from Brussels could be badged a confidence vote, as John Major did with the ’94 EU budget vote, the answer is that the Fixed Term Parliaments Act seems to have done for such “back me or we go to the polls” moments.
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