The leader of the Tory group in the Assembly seems to be quite exercised about the fact that MPs aren’t all falling in to line behind his boss to support her Brexit deal. I can understand how committed Brexiters like him are getting increasingly concerned that as time goes by, the ‘victory’ that they won in the referendum looks to be less certain than it did at the time. He berates MPs who stood on manifestos promising to honour the result for having second thoughts about the detail as it becomes clearer, as though new facts (or, perhaps merely corrections to old ‘facts’) lead MPs to want to change the nature of the Brexit which is to be delivered. His criticism is misplaced in two ways, though, it seems to me.
The first is that there is still, I believe, a clear majority in parliament who would willingly vote to uphold the referendum result and allow Brexit to proceed, but who want to make sure that the detail of future arrangements is clear before they commit the country to an irreversible path. I might wish it were otherwise, but I remain convinced that there are enough MPs who would vote for Brexit – even though they don’t really think it’s the right thing to do at all – as long as they could be persuaded that the final deal was not going to do too much damage to their constituents. The problem that’s preventing them doing that isn’t their own opposition to Brexit – it’s the abject failure and utter stubbornness of the current government even to countenance a meaningful discussion on the detail. The PM’s insistence on her arbitrary red lines is a far bigger problem than the pro-EU sentiment of opposition MPs.
But the most intriguing thing for me about Davies’ comment was the way in which he accused MPs of putting their “personal ambitions ahead of their responsibility to voters”. I’m not quite sure in what way he thinks that voting for the opposite of what he claims that the voters want is prioritising their own careers. It seems to me that the opposite would be more likely to be true, and indeed, some of the MPs in his own party supporting a softer Brexit have already been threatened with deselection by their party’s members. The idea that MPs opposing Brexit could be putting their own ambitions first depends on the assumption that the electorate will favour them as a result; and that depends on an assumption that enough electors have changed their minds since the referendum to make that a realistic assumption. Perhaps, in his desperation to see his ideological project completed before it slips from his grasp completely, he’s revealing rather more about his knowledge of the political reality than he intended.