What was billed as the most momentous parliamentary vote in post-war Britain ended up as a catastrophic night for our country. Where do we go from here?
Writing as a Brexiteer, I am more convinced than ever that the votes of 17.4 million people in favour of leaving the EU are now likely be disregarded.
The probable options facing us after Theresa May’s devastating Commons defeat are either a very soft Norway-style Brexit — which is not obviously preferable to being in the EU — or a so-called People’s Vote, which I expect would reverse the outcome of the June 2016 referendum.
Throughout the world our friends and erstwhile admirers are rubbing their eyes in disbelief as our parliamentary democracy, once admired for its moderation, good sense and pragmatism, collapses ignominiously.
Theresa May’s revised Brexit deal was defeated tonight by 391 votes to 242 in the House of Commons
And most people up and down the country will be aghast that their politicians should have failed at the 11th hour to grasp a deal which, though far from perfect, offered stability and every hope of a prosperous and successful future.
How can this have happened? Why, when there should be much to unite the warring factions in the Commons, did MPs repudiate a perfectly sensible deal proposed by the Prime Minister only 16 days before we are due to leave the EU?
I’m afraid there has been a very unBritish reluctance to compromise and an equally unBritish addiction to ideology — combined with a lamentable tendency to put narrow, factional party politics before the national interest.
In the dock of shame stand the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), many Tories in the European Research Group (ERG) and the Labour front bench. Add some intransigent Remainers determined to undo the result of the referendum.
Oh, and we mustn’t forget the equally doctrinaire and unbending EU mandarins in Brussels, who are so in love with their dream of a fledgling European superstate, so devoted to the sanctity of their precious rules, that they did only the bare minimum to help out Theresa May.
Let’s consider those discreditable politicians who put party before country. Head of the queue is Jeremy Corbyn, whose obsession in recent months has been to force a general election which — I pray misguidedly — he is convinced Labour would win.
Whereas Mrs May has had to grapple with reality, Labour has advocated policies that would never be acceptable to EU panjandrums — namely clear alignment with the single market and a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union including a say in future trade deals.
Jeremy Corbyn’s obsession in recent months has been to force a general election which he is convinced Labour would win
Corbyn has had the gall to accuse the Prime Minister of ‘fantasy’ but the idea that Britain could ever achieve Labour’s goals — amounting to all the privileges of EU membership without any of the obligations — is for the birds.
The dishonesty is breathtaking. Instead of offering constructive criticism of Mrs May’s hard-won proposals, Labour has pretended that it has a viable alternative.
Corbyn’s latest sleight of hand has been to accept a second referendum under pressure from Labour Remainers while continuing to scheme for the general election he craves.
Why wouldn’t he, in the national interest, make common cause with Mrs May? Because his overriding preoccupation has been to secure an election so that he can unleash his barmy Marxist experiment on unsuspecting Britons.
In some ways the DUP — all of whose ten MPs voted against Mrs May’s deal last night — aren’t much better. A recent poll suggests that voters in Northern Ireland are overwhelmingly opposed to a hard Brexit such as has been championed by the DUP.
Some 67 per cent of voters (including many unionists) say the party is doing a bad job of representing the province at Westminster. In other words, the hard-line DUP doesn’t speak for the majority in Northern Ireland.
Most of the European Research Group, including its chair Jacob Rees-Mogg voted against Mrs May’s deal, even though by so doing they plunged this country into a period of uncertainty which could result in our staying in
Nor does the party generally consider the wider interests of the UK, of which it says it is so happy to be a part. On the contrary, it is an extremist sect with a dark past which pursues its interests without regard either to the rest of the UK or most people in the province.
To be fair, more reasonable elements in the DUP might have been won over, not least because they realise how out of step they are with public opinion in Northern Ireland, if the Attorney General had not made such a pig’s ear of his legal advice yesterday.
Having established that the concessions wrung from the EU by Mrs May on Monday night ‘enhance’ her deal, Geoffrey Cox nonetheless insisted that the risk of the UK being tied to EU rules over the so-called Backstop ‘remains unchanged’.
How can this be? If the terms are better, the risks must be less. Though he looks every inch the grandiloquent lawyer, my friends at the Bar say his judgment is not universally venerated by his peers. He let down his country yesterday.
And that brings me to the Tories of the ERG since I’ll skip over Remainers in the Cabinet such as Amber Rudd and David Gauke, who recently weakened Mrs May’s hand in her negotiations with Brussels by insisting she take No Deal off the table.
I had hopes of the ERG. Excepting a hard-core of ignorant and irrevocably stubborn characters, many of them are principled and well-informed MPs who have tirelessly championed the cause of Brexit.
And yet last night most of them — with a few notable exceptions such as former Brexit Secretary David Davis — voted against Mrs May’s deal even though by so doing they plunged this country into a period of uncertainty which could result in our staying in.
Also in the dock of shame stand the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (pictured left to right: Dianne Dodds MEP, leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds) who also voted against Mrs May’s deal
Why in God’s name could they not compromise? Here was perhaps the only opportunity we will ever have to escape the EU. Three years ago they would have almost died for such an outcome. Now they are likely to get very much less — or nothing at all.
Beware ideologues. And those, such as Corbyn and the bigots of the DUP, who put their parties in front of their country. It grieves me to say this, but it seems we are cursed with a Parliament dominated by knaves and fools who really have abandoned the people they represent.
I don’t know whether Mrs May will be defenestrated or whether she will struggle on. But who will save our stricken nation?
And now? I normally recoil from loose talk of a ‘national crisis’. But we have one now. Coming into work yesterday morning, I looked around my railway carriage and saw only hard-working and dutiful people whose thoughts seemed a thousand miles from the idiocies of Brexit.
The crisis is not of their making. Leavers or Remainers, they want only to get on with their lives, and not to have their jobs threatened or their wealth and happiness undermined — and Great Britain weakened and made the laughing stock of the world.
I don’t know whether Mrs May will be defenestrated or whether she will struggle on. Conceivably she will limp back one more time. Parliament will try to wrest control.
Today, No Deal is certain to be rejected by MPs. Tomorrow, they will probably vote for an extension to Article 50, which will enable the EU to dictate onerous terms.
Who will save our stricken nation? Ahead I can only see more chaos and turmoil unless politicians miraculously stop gouging out one another’s eyes — and put our country first.