The Vienna Convention is a very, very slender ladder down which to retreat

The precedents seem unfavourable to Brexiteer ambitions and it isn’t even obvious that it applies to UK-EU relations at all.

Now that the Prime Minister won the breathing space she needs to bring forward ‘MVIII’ – the next in the Government’s ongoing series of decisive votes on Brexit – she must return to the thorny issue of how to win it.

As her strategy is currently to maintain the unity of the Conservative Party and the broad thrust of its 2017 manifesto, she needs to do this by winning over the substantial bloc of Tory MPs holding out against the deal.

The good news is that a number of those who rebelled on the first Meaningful Vote came home on the second, and there are many signs that more are keen for an opportunity to do so. Indeed, the signal failure of the bid to ‘amend’ the deal was that Geoffrey Cox didn’t feel able to provide these MPs with adequate reassurances even though many of them really wanted him to.

In a debate on the legal advice Jacob Rees-Mogg invited Steve Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, to offer him reassurance on this point. (This brief exchange is worth reading, for we’ll return to it).

Meanwhile the Times reports one “senior Brexiteer” said that many of the European Research Group could have voted with the Government on the second meaningful vote had Cox referred to the Vienna Convention in his advice, charging him with “incompetence”.

But you can forgive those who are now sceptical about the Attorney General’s new proposal to use the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, to give it its full title, as Britain’s backstop get-out clause, and not just because Cox didn’t feel able to place great weight on it before political necessity forced his hand.

The Convention itself, as the BBC explains, essentially states that parties to a treaty have the right to withdraw from it in the event of relevant circumstances changing significantly in a manner the signatories could not foresee.

However, Martin Howe, one of the Brexiteers’ legal experts and a member of the European Research Group’s so-called ‘Star Chamber’ which rejected Cox’s advice, thinks this is a complete non-starter, telling the Evening Standard that:

“The leading case in the International Court of Justice (the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros case between Hungary and Slovakia) shows this requires radical change of circumstances. The fall of the Soviet Union, disappearance of the Warsaw Pact, and dissolution of Czechoslovakia, were not sufficient to satisfy this ground.

“The other issue is, under Article 62, the change of circumstances has to be unforeseeable. As we are talking about this ‘change of circumstances’ now, it cannot be unforeseeable.”

However Lord Pannick QC, a constitutional lawyer (and supporter of a second referendum) takes a different view, writing in a letter to the Times:

“Article 1 (4) of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland states that the objective of the withdrawal agreement “is not to establish a permanent relationship between the Union and the UK”.

“If, therefore, the UK and the EU were unable to reach an agreement on Northern Ireland/Ireland, despite good faith negotiations and despite the arbitration procedures, and if the UK were therefore to be faced (against its will) with a permanent backstop arrangement, the UK would be entitled to terminate the withdrawal agreement under Article 62 of the Vienna convention on the Law of Treaties.”

Another complication is that, as this note from the House of Commons library points out, the Vienna Convention only covers treaties between states, whereas the EU is an international organisation and “the Vienna Convention involving international organisations is not yet in force.”

But advocates of this approach – notably Sir Edward Leigh, who tabled an amendment on it – seem to believe that the Convention will nonetheless provide what the HoCL calls “a very strong guide” on the relevant international law. That may be so, but it makes an already very slender ladder from Cox slenderer still – and that’s before taking into account the political likelihood of taking such a decisive approach when the time comes.

In light of all the above, here is the circumstances in which Barclay set out that the United Kingdom could, hypothetically, use Article 62 of the Vienna Convention to depart the backstop:

“…if the United Kingdom took the reasonable view, on clear evidence, that the objectives of the protocol were no longer being proportionately served by its provisions because, for example, it was no longer protecting the 1998 agreement in all its dimensions”.

On the surface, this ties up with Cox’s other thinking about the Belfast Agreement, which we have covered elsewhere. But apply Martin Howe’s reasoning to the above statement and that sense evaporates.

First, Barclay’s circumstances appear require the treaty to become a threat to the Belfast Agreement – being one now, which Cox appears to think it might be, is not a change in circumstances. Think about the dominant narrative surrounding the Agreement and mull how likely that is.

Second, in order to qualify under the convention such a threat needs to be unforeseen, meaning almost by definition that concerned Brexiteers can’t think up such circumstances now. Indeed, any such effort would be self-defeating.

The technical possibility of the stars aligning in a totally unforeseen and hugely improbable way is not a unilateral exit from the backstop so much as the outside chance of an act of God. Little wonder Rees-Mogg wasn’t convinced.

In the end, though, it may be enough. If enough Brexiteer MPs share Simon Clarke’s view that they are “increasingly operating with a gun to our head”, ‘Cox’s Viennese Codpiece’ may yet provide just about enough cover for a retreat.

Our survey: members split evenly over whether to deselect Cabinet rebels

They are much less divided over whether to do the same to the Brexiteer rebels against the Withdrawal Agreement: definitely not.

With talk rising of a general election, the thorny issue of deselection arises. Could the Party plausibly contest a Brexit election with all of its current MPs as candidates? Would victory in such circumstances resolve anything?

To test the waters, our survey asked the panel their views on deselection in two circumstances: Conservative MPs who voted against the Government’s revised Brexit deal; and ministers who threatened to vote against Government policy on a no-deal exit without resigning.

For the former group, the result was as overwhelmingly negative as we might expect: 83 per cent of respondents opposed deselecting the scores of rebels on the second meaningful vote, against just 12 per cent who supported such a move.

On the second question, however, it was pretty much an even split: 46 vs 44 per cent each way. Given the leanings of our panellists, this means that a substantial share of party members who support Brexit nonetheless don’t support taking such decisive action against those who are, in one view, threatening to prevent it.

As this survey was taken before Wednesday’s extraordinary abstentions by Greg Clark, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, and David Mundell the number favouring action might now be higher. Deselection is also a big step when a much less controversial one – sacking them – remains on the table.

Nonetheless, it suggests that maintaining the unity of the Tory Party remains a top priority for much of the grassroots.


The 187 Tory MPs, including six Cabinet Ministers, who voted against the Prime Minister’s motion to extend Article 50

Almost two thirds of the parliamentary Conservative Party opposed it, alongside the DUP and a handful of others.

Parliament has voted to extend Article 50. The ranks of the Ayes include the Prime Minister and much of her Cabinet, but by a considerable margin only a minority of the parliamentary Conservative Party.

Almost two-thirds of Tory MPs, alongside all ten Democratic Unionists and a smattering of Labour and Independent MPs, voted against extension.

So too did six Secretaries of State: Steve Barclay, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling, Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss, and Gavin Williamson. Andrea Leadsom, who attends Cabinet in her role as Leader of the House, also voted against. Alun Cairns voted in both lobbies to register what is known as a ‘positive abstention’.

The full list is below. Not included are Peter Bone and Will Wragg, who served as tellers and bring the true total up to 189.

  • Nigel Adams
  • Adam Afriyie
  • Lucy Allan
  • David Amess
  • Stuart Andrew
  • Richard Bacon
  • Kemi Badenoch
  • Steve Baker
  • Harriet Baldwin
  • Stephen Barclay


  • John Baron
  • Henry Bellingham
  • Jake Berry
  • Bob Blackman
  • Crispin Blunt
  • Ben Bradley
  • Graham Brady
  • Suella Braverman
  • Jack Brereton
  • Andrew Bridgen


  • Fiona Bruce
  • Alex Burghart
  • Conor Burns
  • William Cash
  • Maria Caulfield
  • Rehman Chishti
  • Christopher Chope
  • Jo Churchill
  • Colin Clark
  • Simon Clarke


  • James Cleverly
  • Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
  • Damian Collins
  • Robert Courts
  • Tracey Crouch
  • Chris Davies
  • David TC Davies
  • Glyn Davies
  • Mims Davies
  • Philip Davies


  • Caroline Dinenage
  • Leo Docherty
  • Michelle Donelan
  • Nadine Dorries
  • Steve Double
  • Jackie Doyle-Price
  • James Duddridge
  • Iain Duncan Smith
  • Michael Ellis
  • Charlie Elphicke


  • George Eustice
  • Nigel Evans
  • David Evennett
  • Michael Fabricant
  • Michael Fallon
  • Kevin Foster
  • Liam Fox
  • Mark Francois
  • Marcus Fysh
  • Nusrat Ghani


  • John Glen
  • Zac Goldsmith
  • Helen Grant
  • James Gray
  • Chris Grayling
  • Chris Green
  • Andrew Griffiths
  • Kirstene Hair
  • Robert Halfon
  • Luke Hall


  • Mark Harper
  • Rebecca Harris
  • Trudy Harrison
  • Simon Hart
  • John Hayes
  • James Heappey
  • Chris Heaton-Harris
  • Philip Hollobone
  • Adam Holloway
  • Nigel Huddleston


  • Eddie Hughes
  • Ranil Jayawardena
  • Bernard Jenkin
  • Andrea Jenkyns
  • Robert Jenrick
  • Boris Johnson
  • Caroline Johnson
  • Gareth Johnson
  • David Jones
  • Marcus Jones


  • Daniel Kawczynski
  • Julian Knight
  • Greg Knight
  • Kwasi Kwarteng
  • John Lamont
  • Pauline Latham
  • Andrea Leadsom
  • Edward Leigh
  • Andrew Lewer
  • Julian Lewis


  • Ian Liddell-Grainger
  • Julia Lopez
  • Jack Lopresti
  • Jonathan Lord
  • Tim Loughton
  • Craig Mackinlay
  • Rachel Maclean
  • Anne Main
  • Alan Mak
  • Kit Malthouse


  • Scott Mann
  • Paul Maynard
  • Stephen McPartland
  • Esther McVey
  • Mark Menzies
  • Johnny Mercer
  • Huw Merriman
  • Stephen Metcalfe
  • Amanda Milling
  • Nigel Mills


  • Damien Moore
  • Penny Mordaunt
  • Anne Marie Morris
  • David Morris
  • James Morris
  • Wendy Morton
  • Sheryll Murray
  • Andrew Murrison
  • Jesse Norman
  • Neil O’Brien


  • Matthew Offord
  • Priti Patel
  • Owen Paterson
  • Mike Penning
  • Andrew Percy
  • Chris Philp
  • Christopher Pincher
  • Mark Pritchard
  • Tom Pursglove
  • Will Quince


  • Dominic Raab
  • John Redwood
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg
  • Laurence Robertson
  • Mary Robinson
  • Andrew Rosindell
  • Douglas Ross
  • Lee Rowley
  • Paul Scully
  • Grant Shapps


  • Chris Skidmore
  • Chloe Smith
  • Henry Smith
  • Royston Smith
  • Mark Spencer
  • Andrew Stephenson
  • Bob Stewart
  • Iain Stewart
  • Graham Stuart
  • Julian Sturdy


  • Rishi Sunak
  • Desmond Swayne
  • Robert Syms
  • Derek Thomas
  • Ross Thomson
  • Maggie Throup
  • Kelly Tolhurst
  • Michael Tomlinson
  • Craig Tracey
  • Anne-Marie Trevelyan


  • Elizabeth Truss
  • Tom Tugendhat
  • Shailesh Vara
  • Martin Vickers
  • Theresa Villiers
  • Ben Wallace
  • David Warburton
  • Matt Warman
  • Giles Watling
  • Helen Whately


  • Heather Wheeler
  • Craig Whittaker
  • John Whittingdale
  • Bill Wiggin
  • Gavin Williamson
  • Mike Wood
  • Nadhim Zahawi

Here are the 15 rebels who almost gave Bercow a casting vote on Cooper/Letwin

By longstanding convention the Speaker casts his vote for the status quo. But would he?

The Prime Minister could not have won tonight’s vote seeing off Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin’s efforts to seize control of the Brexit negotiations from the executive. Had just one MP voted the other way, it would have been a tie.

This would have given the Speaker the casting vote. By longstanding convention the Speaker’s vote is cast to maintain the status quo – so we can expect John Bercow to have handed control of the biggest single policy issue facing the country to a backbench cabal.

In terms of personalities it’s exactly the same band who through their weight behind Powell’s amendment, minus Halfon.

  • Guto Bebb
  • Richard Benyon
  • Nick Boles
  • Kenneth Clarke
  • Jonathan Djanogly
  • George Freeman
  • Justine Greening
  • Dominic Grieve
  • Sam Gyimah
  • Phillip Lee
  • Oliver Letwin
  • Antoinette Sandbach
  • Nicholas Soames
  • John Stevenson
  • Ed Vaizey

The sixteen Tory MPs who broke the whip to back Powell’s cut-off amendment

Halfon and Stevenson join the Europhile ultras in a very near miss for the Government.

Lucy Powell’s amendment, which was tabled after our summaries, aimed to introduce a cutoff date to prevent any extension of Article 50 taking us past June. This would have helped to increase pressure for the Prime Minister’s deal or a soft-Brexit alternative such as ‘Norway Plus’.

It lost very narrowly, with just 311 votes against 314, and sixteen Conservative MPs amongst the ranks of the Ayes. It’s mostly the party’s emerging Europhile core but Rob Halfon and John Stevenson, two strong advocate of ‘Common Market 2.0‘, are newcomers.

  • Guto Bebb
  • Richard Benyon
  • Nick Boles
  • Kenneth Clarke
  • Jonathan Djanogly
  • George Freeman
  • Justine Greening
  • Dominic Grieve
  • Sam Gyimah
  • Robert Halfon
  • Phillip Lee
  • Oliver Letwin
  • Antoinette Sandbach
  • Nicholas Soames
  • John Stevenson
  • Ed Vaizey

The new cross-party amendment that would remove May’s control of the Brexit negotiation

Cooper/Letwin is back, supported by Labour and Tory Europhiles as well as the Liberal Democrats, the Independent Group, and Scottish and Welsh nationalists.

This was not published in today’s Order Paper with the other amendments we covered earlier, but on Twitter.

Amendment (i): Line 4, leave out “from Article 50 (3)” to end and add: “to enable the House of Commons to find a way forward that can command majority support; (2) Orders accordingly that on Wednesday 20 March – (a) Standing Order No 14(1) (which provides that government business shall have precedence at every sitting save as provided in that order) shall not apply; (b) precedence shall be given to the motion specified in paragraph 3; (c) the Speaker shall interrupt proceedings on any business before the motion specified in paragraph 3 at 1.30pm and call a Member to move that motion; (d) debate on that motion may continue until 7pm at which time the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on that motion including the questions on amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; (e) any proceedings interrupted or superceded by this order may be resumed or (as the case may be) entered upon and proceeded with after the moment of interruption; and (3) the motion specified in this paragraph is a motion in the name of at least 25 Members, including at least five Members elected to the House as Members of at least five different parties, relating to the Business of the House on a future day or days in connection with matters relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

  • Hilary Benn
  • Sir Oliver Letwin
  • Yvette Cooper
  • Mr Dominic Grieve
  • Norman Lamb
  • Stewart Hosie

Other signatories:

  • Conservative: Dame Caroline Spelman; Nick Boles; Sir Nicholas Soames; Mr Jonathan Djanogly; Antoinette Sandbach;
  • Labour: Jack Dromey; Alison McGovern; Stephen Doughty; Liz Kendall; Mary Creagh; Seema Malhotra; Ian Murray; Debbie Abrahams; Madeleine Moon; Gareth Thomas; Sandy Martin; Mr Pat McFadden; Neil Coyle; Ruth Cadbury; Wes Streeting; David Lammy; Helen Goodman; Alex Sobel; Lilian Greenwood; Dr Rupa Huq; Preet Kaur Gill; Rachel Reeves; Karen Buck; Matt Western; Maria Eagle; Rushanara Ali; Stephen Timms; Anna McMorrin; Rosie Duffield; Paul Sweeny; Kate Green; Kerry McCarthy; Lloyd Russell-Moyle; Alex Cunningham; Marsha de Cordova; Jo Stevens; Ellie Reeves; Bridget Philipson; and Anna Turley.
  • Liberal Democrat: Tom Brake; Sir Vince Cable; Jo Swinson; Layla Moran; Wera Hobhouse; Tim Farron; Mr Alistair Carmichael; Jamie Stone; Christine Jardine; and Sir Edward Davey.
  • The Independent Group: Anna Soubry; Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger; Chris Leslie; Heidi Allen; Dr Sarah Wollaston; Angela Smith; Gavin Shuker; Anne Coffey; Mike Gapes; and Joan Ryan.
  • Plaid Cymru: Ben Lake.

The eight amendments tabled ahead of tonight’s debate on extending Article 50

There’s a Conservative/Labour/Democratic Unionist push to rule out a second referendum and Benn leads the charge for Cooper/Letwin.

Taken from today’s Order Paper.

The motion

That this House:

(1) notes the resolutions of the House of 12 and 13 March, and accordingly agrees that the Government will seek to agree with the European Union an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3);

(2) agrees that, if the House has passed a resolution approving the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship for the purposes of section 13(1) (b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 by 20 March 2019, then the Government will seek to agree with the European Union a one-off extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) for a period ending on 30 June 2019 for the purpose of passing the necessary EU exit legislation; and

(3) notes that, if the House has not passed a resolution approving the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship for the purposes of section 13(1)(b) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 by 20 March 2019, then it is highly likely that the European Council at its meeting the following day would require a clear purpose for any extension, not least to determine its length, and that any extension beyond 30 June 2019 would require the United Kingdom to hold European Parliament elections in May 2019.

Amendment (a): Line 1, leave out from “House” to end and add “notes that the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament and the House of Commons all voted overwhelmingly to reject the Prime Minister’s deal; recognises that the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament voted convincingly in favour of a People’s Vote; further notes that this House rejected the UK’s leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a future relationship framework; and therefore calls on the
Government to honour the respective will of each Parliament by seeking to extend the time under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union until 2021, or until the future relationship has been negotiated, and by holding a binding referendum at the end of that period on either accepting the Withdrawal Agreement or retaining membership of the European Union.”.

  • Jonathan Edwards
  • Liz Saville Roberts
  • Hywel Williams
  • Ben Lake

Amendment (c): Line 1, leave out from “House” to end and add “calls on the Government to bring forward urgently the legislation necessary to require the Prime Minister to revoke before 29 March 2019 the UK’s notice of intention to withdraw from the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.”.

  • Angus Brendan MacNeil
  • Mr Kenneth Clarke
  • Keith Vaz
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • Pete Wishart
  • Drew Hendry

Other signatories:

  • Labour: Geraint Davies; Anne McMorrin; Jo Stevens; Catherine West; Barry Sheerman; Ged Killen; Martin Whitfield; and Hugh Gaffney.
  • Scottish National Party: Douglas Chapman; Patricia Gibson; Hannah Bardell; Stuart C McDonald; Stewart Malcolm McDonald; Gavin Newlands; Chris Stephens; Carol Monaghan, Stewart Hosie; Dr Philippa Whitford; Joanna Cherry; Martyn Day; John McNally; Ronnie Cowan; Martin Docherty-Hughes; and Chris Law
  • Plaid Cymru: Ben Lake; Hywel Williams; Liz Saville Roberts

Amendment (d): Line 1, leave out from “House” to end and add “calls on the Government to negotiate an extension to Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union of sufficient length so as to facilitate a referendum on whether to exit the European Union under the terms of the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement or to stay in membership of the European Union and all necessary associated measures.”.

  • Tom Brake
  • Sir Vince Cable
  • Jo Swinson
  • Mr Alistair Carmichael
  • Wera Hobhouse
  • Sir Edward Davey

Other signatories:

  • Liberal Democrat: Tim Farron; Christine Jardine; Norman Lamb; Layla Moran; and Jamie Stone.

Amendment (f): Line 1, leave out from “House” to end and add, “calls on the Government to agree with the European Council an extension to the negotiating period under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union to provide time for a public vote on the UK’s relationship with the EU including the option to remain; believes that throughout an extension period the option for this House to unilaterally revoke notice to withdraw under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union must remain on the table; recognises the resolutions of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly on 5 March 2019 to oppose the UK Government’s exit deal and agree that a no deal outcome to the current negotiations on EU withdrawal would be completely unacceptable on 29 March 2019, or at any time; believes Scotland must not be taken out of the European Union against its will, and that this can best be avoided by the people of Scotland exercising their sovereign right to choose their own constitutional future as a full, equal, sovereign, independent Member State of the European Union.”.

  • Ian Blackford
  • Kirsty Blackman
  • Liz Saville Roberts
  • Peter Grant
  • Stephen Gethins
  • Patrick Grady

Other signatories:

  • Scottish National Party: Stewart Hosie; Pete Wishart; Angus Brendan MacNeil; Deidre Brock; Alan Brown; Stewart Malcolm McDonald; Mhairi Black; Dr Lisa Cameron; Martyn Day; Marion Fellows; Patricia Gibson; Chris Law; Carol Monaghan; Gavin Newlands; Joanna Cherry; Tommy Sheppard; Martin Docherty-Hughes; Douglas Chapman; Drew Hendry; Brendan O’Hara; Angela Crawley; Stuart C McDonald; John McNally; Ronnoe Cowan; Alison Thewliss; Neil Gray; Hannah Bardell; Chris Stephens; Dr Philippa Whitford; and David Linden.
  • Plaid Cymru: Hywel Williams; Jonathan Edwards; and Ben Lake.

Amendment (h): Line 1, leave out from “House” to end and add “instructs the Prime Minister to request an extension to the Article 50 period at the European Council in March 2019 sufficient for the purposes of legislating for and conducting a public vote in which the people of the United Kingdom may give their consent for either leaving the European Union on terms to be determined by Parliament or retaining the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.”.

  • Dr Sarah Wollaston
  • Dr Philippa Whitford
  • Joanna Cherry
  • Tom Brake
  • Neil Coyle
  • Liz Saville Roberts

Other signatories:

  • Labour: Geraint Davies;
  • Liberal Democrat: Sir Vince Cable; Mr Alistair Carmichael; Sir Edward Davey; Tim Farron; Wera Hobhouse; Christine Jardine; Norman Lamb; Layla Moran; Jamie Stone; and Jo Swinson.
  • The Independent Group: Mr Chris Leslie; Anna Soubry; Mike Gapes; Heidi Allen; Luciana Berger; Ann Coffey; Joan Ryan; Angela Smith; Mr Gavin Shuker; and Chuka Umunna.
  • Plaid Cymru: Jonathan Edwards; Ben Lake; Hywel Williams.

Amendment (g): Line 2, leave out from “13 March” to end and add “and therefore instructs the Government to seek to agree with the European Union an extension of the period specified in Article 50(3) to 22 May 2019 for the specific purpose of replacing the UK negotiating team.”.

  • Christopher Chope

Amendment (e): Leave out paragraphs (2) and (3) and add: “(2) notes that this House has decisively rejected the Withdrawal Agreement and Framework for the Future Relationship laid before the House and the proposition that the UK should leave the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship; and (3) therefore instructs the Prime Minister to seek an extension to Article 50 in order to avoid exiting the EU on 29 March without a ratified Withdrawal Agreement and a Framework for the Future Relationship; and to provide parliamentary time for this House to find a majority for a different approach.”.

  • Jeremy Corbyn
  • Keir Starmer
  • Emily Thornberry
  • John McDonnell
  • Valerie Vaz
  • Mr Nicholas Brown

Amendment (b): At end, add “(4) believes that the result of the 2016 EU referendum should be respected and that a second EU referendum would be divisive and expensive, and therefore should not take place.”.

  • Lee Rowley
  • Nigel Dodds
  • Gareth Snell
  • Caroline Flint
  • George Eustice
  • Anne-Marie Trevelyan

Other signatories:

  • Conservative: Mr Simon Clarke; Andrea Jenkyns; Mr David Jones; Sir William Cash; Derek Thomas; Robert Halfon; Mr Richard Bacon; Mr Philip Dunne; Sir Robert Syms; Sir Mike Penning; Mr Charles Walker; Sir David Amess; Fiona Bruce; Richard Drax; Henry Smith; Mr William Wragg; Bob Stewart; Will Quince; Chris Green; Nigel Mills; Mr John Whittingdale; Martin Vickers; Greg Hands; Julia Lopez; Andrew Lewer; Grant Shapps; Ms Nadine Dorries; Adam Holloway; Andrew Rosindell; Bill Wiggin; Mr Philip Hollobone; Scott Mann; Adam Afriyie; Mr Steve Baker; Crispin Blunt; Bob Blackman; Mr Peter Bone; Sir Graham Brady; Andrew Bridgen; Conor Burns; Rehman Chishti; Robert Courts; Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown; Tracey Crouch; David TC Davies; Steve Double; James Duddridge; Mr Iain Duncan Smith; Charlie Elphicke; Mr Mark Francois; Mr Marcus Fysh; Zac Goldsmith; James Gray; Mr Mark Harper; Sir John Hayes; Eddie Hughes; Mr Ranil Jayawardena; Sir Bernard Jenkin; Boris Johnson; Gareth Johnson; Daniel Kaczynski; John Lamont; Mr Jonathan Lord; Tim Loughton; Esther McVey; Mark Menzies; Mrs Sheryll Murray; Neil Paris; Priti Patel; Mark Pritchard; Tom Pursglove; Dominic Raab; Mr Laurence Robertson; Ross Thomson; Michael Tomlinson; Craig Tracey; Mr Shailesh Vara; Theresa Villiers; Julian Sturdy; Craig Mackinlay; Michael Fabricant; Mr Owen Paterson; Suella Braverman; and Sir Christopher Chope.
  • Labour: Kate Hoey; John Mann; Rosie Cooper; Mr Ronnie Campbell; Mike Hill; Graham Stringer; Grahame Morris; Mr Dennis Skinner; Sir Kevin Barron;
  • Democratic Unionist: Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson; Sammy Wilson; Mr Gregory Campbell, Paul Girvan; Jim Shannon; Ian Paisley; Emma Little Pengelly; Gavin Robinson; and David Simpson.
  • Independent: Frank Field; and Kelvin Hopkins.

Henry Hill: Hunt squares off with Sturgeon over prospect of second independence referendum

Also: Tory MPs lead the charge against prosecutions of ex-servicemen who served in Ulster; Ulster Unionist leader savages DUP; and more.

Hunt squares off with Sturgeon over independence vote

It looks as if there may be a fresh confrontation between the British and Scottish governments over the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Yesterday the Scotsman reported that Nicola Sturgeon has said she intends exercise an apparent mandate she has to hold so-called ‘indyref two’ in response to the chaos engulfing Westminster over Brexit.

But the constitution as a policy area is reserved to London, and earlier this week Jeremy Hunt made it very clear that the Prime Minister has not changed her mind about refusing permission to hold another vote. According to the Daily Express, he said: “The answer of course would be no for the very simple reason that we think the Scottish Government should be focusing on the concerns of Scottish voters.”

This prompted fresh disarray in the ranks of the SNP after the First Minister was forced to slap down her deputy, Keith Brown, for suggesting that the Scottish Government might organise an illegal plebiscite without Westminster’s authorisation. For the moment the Nationalists have confined themselves to tabling a pro-independence amendment to Tuesday’s vote.

Another SNP politician was forced to apologise this week after branding Scottish Conservative MPs “traitors” for not backing the Nationalists over Brexit.

In a further blow to Sturgeon’s ambitions, a poll this week suggests a hardening of attitudes on the unionist side: one in three Scots reportedly believe that there should now never be another referendum on independence.

Tory MPs attack prospect of Bloody Sunday prosecutions

MPs have criticised the Government as prosecutors prepare to reveal whether charges will be laid against a number of ex-servicemen over the events of Bloody Sunday almost 50 years ago.

They claim that allowing prosecutions to be brought against Army veterans would be “shameful”, according to the Times, raising concerns about the ability to try the men fairly half a century on from the events in question.

Conservative MPs named include Richard Benyon, himself a former officer, and Leo Docherty, who this morning penned a piece for the Times Red Box setting out his objections. He argued that: “if a prosecution goes ahead it will be motivated not by new evidence, new testimony or anything else that would lead to a more meaningful trial but by nationalist sentiment in the legal system in Northern Ireland that seeks political retribution above all else.”

He also, inevitably, highlighted the contrast between the treatment of ex-servicemen and the so-called “comfort letters” – de facto pardons – issued to known IRA terrorists, one of which collapsed the trial of the Hyde Park bomber.

All of this come as Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, announced earlier this week that new protections being introduced to protect soldiers would come (“sadly”) too late to shield veterans who served in Northern Ireland. However, the Sun reports his making combative comments about the need to focus on the “future” of Ulster.

Elsewhere, John McDonnell conceded that his past support of the IRA’s terror campaign may have helped to fuel sectarian violence.

Scottish Labour avoids split by equivocating on Brexit re-run

After last week’s public row over the apparent censoring of ‘People’s Vote’ campaigners, this week Labour appear to have managed to avoid a full-on confrontation over their Brexit policy.

The party formally backed a second referendum at their conference this week but without giving much indication that they are amount to stage a serious push for one, according to the Financial Times.

In this Scottish Labour, which is apparently “largely autonomous” on policy even when it comes to reserved issues, seems to be taking its lead from Jeremy Corbyn, who is himself formally committed to pursuing another vote but doesn’t seem to be letting it trouble him overmuch.

Ulster Unionist leader launches stinging attack on DUP

Robin Swann, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, made any prospect of unionist unity seem rather distant this week as he opened up on the Democratic Unionists, according to the News Letter.

Speaking at the UUP’s annual general general meeting in Belfast, the MLA accused his party’s dominant rivals of neglecting their duties towards good governance in Northern Ireland and gerrymandering local government boundaries, adding:

“At the party conference in October past, I said that there was a battle to save the Union from the DUP. I cannot say my view has changed. With the DUP at the helm, pro-Union politics lies in the gutter.”

Meanwhile Sam McBride reported that Karen Bradley’s conduct in the House of Commons had stripped the last “fig leaf” away from the reality of un-scrutinised civil service rule in the Province.

He wrote that the Northern Irish Secretary is consistently using fast-track procedures to pass Northern Irish business through the House with minimal time for scrutiny. This is putatively to give the devolved institutions as much time as possible to get back on their feet and take the decisions themselves, but given the complete lack of activity on that front it looks increasingly like a ruse to allow Bradley to avoid scrutiny which she appears ill-equipped to withstand.

All of this come as the Irish Independent reports the Prime Minister ‘threatening’ direct rule for Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal exit. Given that the DUP have been calling for it for over a year, it isn’t much of a threat.

The five Secretaries of State who supported the Green Amendment

As a free vote, this may give us the clearest picture of the divisions at the very top of the Party over how to approach Brexit.

Whilst several senior members of the Cabinet were amongst the 66 Conservative MPs who voted against ‘Malthouse II’, there were Secretaries of State on the other side of the question too.

As a free vote, this Amendment perhaps offers the purest insight into the divisions deepening at the very top of the Party about how best to proceed over Brexit. Excluding junior ministers, they are:

  • Alun Cairns (Welsh Office)
  • Jeremy Hunt (Foreign Office)
  • Sajid Javid (Home Office)
  • Penny Mordaunt (DfID)
  • Gavin Williamson (Defence)

Andrea Leadsom, who attends Cabinet in her role as Leader of the House, also supported it.

Greg Clark, David Gauke, David Lidington, Claire Perry and Amber Rudd are reported to have voted against the motion, with all other Cabinet members abstaining.

The 66 Tories who voted against ‘Malthouse Two”

Several Ministers helped to see off the Government’s best hope of avoiding a full-on crisis in the Party – and perhaps of saving Brexit too.

This morning, our editor identified the Green Amendment – so-called ‘Malthouse II’, or ‘Amendment F’ – as the Government’s best hope saving the Conservative Party, if not Brexit itself.

Backed by Conservative and DUP MPs, the motion (which we detailed here) sought to ease the path towards a no-deal exit by giving businesses more information and brokering so-called ‘standstill’ arrangements with the EU.

However the Government did not whip in support of the motion, and on a free vote – and with the usual power of the whip and payroll already disintegrating – several high-profile members of the Cabinet helped to see it convincingly defeated.

  • Richard Bacon
  • Guto Bebb
  • Nick Boles
  • Jack Brereton
  • Steve Brine
  • Alistair Burt
  • James Cartlidge
  • Alex Chalk
  • Jo Churchill
  • Greg Clark


  • Kenneth Clarke
  • Stephen Crabb
  • Tracey Crouch
  • Jonathan Djanogly
  • Jackie Doyle-Price
  • Mark Field
  • Vicky Ford
  • Kevin Foster
  • Roger Gale
  • David Gauke


  • Nick Gibb
  • Bill Grant
  • Justine Greening
  • Dominic Grieve
  • Andrew Griffiths
  • Sam Gyimah
  • Luke Hall
  • Richard Harrington
  • Oliver Heald
  • Peter Heaton-Jones


  • Simon Hoare
  • Philip Hollobone
  • John Howell
  • Nigel Huddleston
  • Margot James
  • Marcus Jones
  • Phillip Lee
  • Oliver Letwin
  • David Lidington
  • Alan Mak


  • Paul Masterton
  • Johnny Mercer
  • Huw Merriman
  • Anne Milton
  • Damien Moore
  • Anne Marie Morris
  • David Morris
  • James Morris
  • Robert Neill
  • Andrew Percy


  • Claire Perry
  • Victoria Prentis
  • Mark Pritchard
  • Douglas Ross
  • Amber Rudd
  • Antoinette Sandbach
  • Chloe Smith
  • Nicholas Soames
  • Caroline Spelman
  • Rory Stewart


  • Gary Streeter
  • Kelly Tolhurst
  • Ed Vaizey
  • Matt Warman
  • Giles Watling
  • Mike Wood